The Ark remembers Professor John Coolahan.


It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our friend and colleague, Professor John Coolahan. For thirteen years John was a dedicated member of The Ark board only stepping down in 2017.

Professor John Coolahan talks about the role of arts in education at our Seen & Heard symposium in 2016. Photo Luca Truffarelli

We have lost a friend and colleague who was a advocate for children, art and education. As well as being a teacher, an educationalist, and historian he was a pivotal figure in Irish education with an extraordinary capacity to affect policy change. For more than 50 years of his illustrious career he was central to every piece of educational legislation produced in Ireland.

In art and culture, too his chairmanship of the group set up to oversee the implementation of the Arts in Education Charter which was signed in 2012 by the Ministers for Education and the Arts has led to many of the central commitments of current policy. A measure of the group’s impact was shown with the allocation of €1.2m for the Creative Children Initiative run by Department of Education and Skills and the Arts Council.

John’s belief that art should be at the heart of every child’s learning and development informed his life’s work. One of his many achievements was to bring new focus on the importance of early childhood development. To mark his unique contribution to art, culture, education and children, The Ark launched the John Coolahan Early Years Artist in Residence in 2017 and announced its inaugural recipient, Lucy Hill in May 2018. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Chair of The Ark Catherine Byrne said, “Professor John Coolahan was a passionate advocate for the rights of all children to fulfill their creative potential through access to the arts both in formal education settings and through organisations such as The Ark, where he served as board member. John supported and encouraged me throughout my career as a teacher and trade union leader  and indeed earlier as a student leader during the legendary strike in Carysfort in the early 1970s. For more than 5 decades he has been a relentless campaigner seeking to bring the arts centre stage in Government thinking. The greatest tribute we can pay Professor Coolahan is to continue to campaign for his vision of an Ireland where every child would have access to the highest quality art and cultural experiences."

Aideen Howard, Director of The Ark, said, “At The Ark, we were lucky to have such a wise, far-seeing advocate who championed the artist and child equally. John had the historian’s gift of taking the long view and I was lucky to have the benefit of his wisdom. He has left a mighty legacy for children in Ireland and my Ark colleagues and I will miss him greatly.”


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