Fair, Eric




Mac Fhinn

birth name

Eric Fair


Eric Mac Fhinn (1895-1987) was an Irish scholar who was ordained in Rome in 1919. He was the first lecturer in Education through the medium of Irish appointed to University College Galway. He was an active researcher and writer throughout his career.


Eric Mac Fhinn (1895-1987), Irish scholar and art collector.
Originally from Meelick, Co. Galway, Eric Mac Fhinn was the son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, who was brought up a Catholic.  It was his father, a doctor with a strong interest in Irish, who chose the name Mac Fhinn. Eric attended Clongowes Wood College and UCD where he obtained an MA in 1915. He went on to Rome to study for a PhD, and was ordained there in 1919. In the following decades he taught for a time in Garbally and also conducted research in the Vatican Archives. He was appointed Lecturer in Education through Irish at University College Galway in 1931. Nollaig Ó Gadhra noted that: 'Nuair a ghlac rialtas an tSaorstáit. . . le moltaí Earnáin de Blaghd, chun Coláiste na hOllscoile a dhátheangú, b’é an tAthair Eric an chéad léachtóir trí mheán na Gaeilge a ceapadh san áit. . . . Sa mhéid sin tá a áit féin aige i stair na tíre, agus i stair an oideachais in Éirinn.’ ['When the Free State government agreed. . . to Ernest Blythe's recommendation of making the University College bilingual, Father Eric was the first lecturer through the medium of Irish to be appointed there. . . . To that extent, he has his own place in the history of the country, and in the history of education in Ireland.'] He was one of the literary judges at Oireachtas na Gaeilge in 1939 (P. Mac Aonghusa (ed.), Oireachtas na Gaeilge 1897-1997, 1997, quoted in Ainm). During the 1940s he was chairman of the Irish Folklore Commission and for another time chairman of the Placenames Commission. Throughout his life he continued to conduct research and to write, his main interests being the Irish language and folk culture. One of his most important contributions was Scríbhinní i gCartlainn an Vatican: Tuarascbháil. He was for about 35 years editor of Ar Agaidh, the monthly journal founded by Liam Ó Buachalla and others in 1931, to which he also contributed articles. One of his later publications was An tAthair Mícheál P. Ó hIceadha (Baile Átha Cliath, 1974), which includes a facsimile of Michael Hickey's 1909 booklet 'An Irish University, or else' with its reflections on the place of Irish in Higher Education.  

Fr Mac Fhinn left most of his collection of books, art and papers to Garbally College, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, where the school library bears his name. His valuable and astutely selected art collection included paintings by leading artists of his period, among them Seán Keating, Maurice MacGonigal, Evie Hone, Nano Reid, George Campbell and Frank McElvey. More than 35 of these works, whose subjects were mainly the people, traditional way of life and landscapes of the West of Ireland, were sold at auction in November 2022. The Library in the University of Galway has, among its named Book Collections, a portion of his library, presented to the University in 2012 by the Sisters of Mercy in Loughrea, to whom it had been bequeathed by an tAthair Eric.  



Diarmuid Breathnach, Máire Ní Mhurchú, 'Mac Fhinn, Eric (1895-1987)', Ainm.ie, accessed 3 Aug. 2023.

Pádraig Ó Ciaraidh, 'Report on the death of Monsignor Eric Mac Fhinn', RTE Archives (1980),, accessed 3 Aug. 2023.

J. F. O’Doherty, [Review of Scríbhinní i gCartlainn an Vatican: Tuarascbháil, by P. E. Mac Fhinn], Irish Historical Studies, 5:18 (1946), 174–177,, accessed 5 Aug. 2023.

Fonsie Mealy, 'Irish and International Art Sale, 16 November 2022' [auction results),, accessed 5 Aug. 2023.

Bibliographic Citation

J. Conroy, 'Eric Mac Fhinn (1895-1987)', Visual History Retired Staff Collection, University of Galway Digital Collections, Asset Id 13923, Archival Record Id VHRS




University of Galway Library

Date Modified

26 November 2023


Upload and data entry by: Jane Conroy
Research by: Jane Conroy

Art collection also includes Fr Jack P. Hanlon and Grace Henry.


2023.08.03 by Jane Conroy
2023.11.12 ibid.
2023.11.26 ibid.

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In the National Museum of Ireland, 1937 People Image