Skeff: A Life of Owen Sheehy Skeffington 1909-1970
Owen Sheehy Skeffington was one of the few Irish public figures who carried a flame for individual conscience and humanitarianism during the mid century. He came from a socialist-republican backround (his father, Francis, a pacifist, murdered in 1916; his mother, Hanna, a prominent suffragette), and was to dedicate his life to the defence of liberal values.
In her biography, his wife chronicles his schooldays in Ireland and America, his career as teacher at Trinity College, Dublin and time as senator during the 1950s and 1960s; and, most especially, his struggles with authoritarianism in all its guises, from the clerical right to the Maoist left. In every available forum – classroom, lecture hall, senate floor, newspaper column – this controversialist championed freedom of thought and encouraged debate on then-closed topics such as education, law, politics and religious affairs.
Skeff was perhaps best encapsulated by Sean O’Faolain, speaking at his funeral in 1970: ‘He was one of the noblest and most complete men our country has ever produced, a man undefeated by all the weaklings and the cowards who yapped at him while he laughed and fought them, a man who, in a country and a time not rich in moral courage, never swerved or changed and who kept his youthful spirit to the very end. Such a man never leaves us.’
ANDRÉE SHEEHY SKEFFINGTON, née Denis, was born in Amiens in 1910 and graduated from the Sorbonne. In 1935 she married Owen and had two sons and one daughter.
‘An indispensable book on the political, social, cultural, intellectual struggle of our time. A pleasure to read.’
– Michael D. Higgins, The Sunday Tribune
‘Absorbing, a valuable contribution to our understanding of modern Ireland. Owen Sheehy Skeffington was one of the outstanding figures of mid-century Irish life.’
– Douglas Gageby, The Irish Times
‘A wonderful and important work of social and intellectual history, written with restraint, style, integrity and above all, with love. One could ask for nothing more.’
– Sean Dunne, The Examiner