Husband, father, utterly besotted grandfather, English professor, passionate Irishman. Born Nov. 16, 1931, in Dublin. Died April 17, 2011, in Peterborough, Ont., of diabetes complications, aged 79.
Sean Finbarr Gallagher grew up in Ballymore Eustace, Ireland. Seventy years later, he wrote fondly about his youth for the village paper. His lively chronicles, describing his athletic, academic and amorous exploits, reveal Finn’s enthusiasm for life and his deep affection for the people around him.
One instalment describes how Finbarr, a cassock-clad seminarian destined for the priesthood, met 20-year-old Eileen Belton in honours English at University College Dublin. When he later suggested they should end their blossoming friendship, Eileen uttered words that would transform his life: “I don’t suppose you have a twin brother?”
Three years later, in 1957, the newlyweds set sail for Canada, where their daughter, Maureen, was born.
In Canada, Finn pursued his true vocation as a professor of English literature at the Universities of Western Ontario and Saskatchewan, before settling at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., in 1969.
There, he taught Shaw, Synge, O’Casey and others to hundreds of students. He also directed seven Irish plays for the Peterborough Theatre Guild and served a term as president of the Canadian Association for Irish Studies. Finn took a genuine interest not only in his students’ essays, but also in their lives. Many became lifelong friends.
He was ardently devoted to the written word, always quoting Shakespeare, Shaw (his hero) and other literary greats. And he left behind a treasury of his own writing, including poems and spirited letters to the editor.
His reverence for language made him a dedicated guardian of English grammar. Students’ essays were returned with copious commentary in green ink – green, Finn cheekily explained, being the liturgical colour of hope. Family and friends were held to the same exacting standard, even in casual conversation.
Finn had an abiding appreciation for the women in his life. Devastated by Eileen’s death from cancer at 57, he considered himself blessed to find Gayle, whom he married in 1995.
Gayle and Maureen (Finn’s “chip off the old block”) formed two-thirds of what he affectionately termed “my trinity.” The third was his granddaughter, Maeve, his overriding passion and preoccupation, the subject of many of his conversations and poems.
Despite significant health challenges, Finn remained essentially happy, his mischievous sense of irony and fun intact, and his appreciation for the things that mattered – family, friends, poetry, drama (and Gaelic football) – unwavering.
“We are all happy so,” Finn concluded on his deathbed, reflecting both his gratitude for a life fully lived and his parting wish for those he was leaving behind.
Maureen Gallagher is Finn’s daughter.
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