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Donogh Brendan O'Malley (17 January 1921 – 10 March 1968) was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician and rugby union player. He served as Minister for Education from 1966 until his death in 1968, Minister for Health from 1965 to 1966, and Minister of State at the Department of Finance from 1961 to 1965. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Limerick East constituency from 1954 until his death.[1] He played rugby for Connacht, Ulster and Munster.

Donogh O'Malley
Minister for Education
In office
13 July 1966 – 10 March 1968
TaoiseachJack Lynch
Preceded byGeorge Colley
Succeeded byBrian Lenihan
Minister for Health
In office
21 April 1965 – 13 July 1966
TaoiseachJack Lynch
Preceded bySeán MacEntee
Succeeded bySeán Flanagan
Minister of State at the Department of Finance
In office
11 October 1961 – 21 April 1965
TaoiseachSeán Lemass
Preceded byJoseph Brennan
Succeeded byJim Gibbons
Teachta Dála
In office
May 1954 – 10 March 1968
ConstituencyLimerick East
Personal details
Donogh Brendan O'Malley

(1921-01-17)17 January 1921
Limerick, Ireland
Died10 March 1968(1968-03-10) (aged 47)
Limerick, Ireland
Political partyFianna Fáil
Spouse(s)Hilda Moriarty
(m. 1944; d. 1968)
Alma materUniversity College Galway


Early and private lifeEdit

Donogh O'Malley was born in Limerick in 1921. Born into a wealthy middle-class family, he was educated by the Jesuits at Crescent College and later at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare. He later studied at University College Galway (UCG),[2] where he was conferred with a degree in engineering in 1943. He then returned to Limerick, where he worked as an engineer before becoming involved in politics.

O'Malley married Dr Hilda Moriarty (1922–1991) in August 1947. The couple had two children: the well-known Irish actor Daragh O'Malley, and Suzanne, a fashion designer. O'Malley's wife is famous as Patrick Kavanagh's ideal love in the poem "On Raglan Road".[3][4][5]

Early political careerEdit

O'Malley was born into a highly politicised family who supported Cumann na nGaedheal until a falling-out with the party in the early 1930s. He first became involved in local politics as a member of Limerick Corporation. He became Mayor of Limerick in 1961, the third O'Malley brother to hold the office (Desmond O'Malley was mayor from 1941 to 1943, and Michael O'Malley from 1948 to 1949).

Donogh O'Malley was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Limerick East at the 1954 general election;[6] Fianna Fáil was not returned to government on that occasion. He spent the rest of the decade on the backbenches; however, his party was returned to power in 1957. Two years later, the modernising process began when Seán Lemass took over from Éamon de Valera as Taoiseach. Lemass introduced younger cabinet ministers, as the old guard who had served the party since its foundation in 1926 began to retire.

In 1961, O'Malley joined the government as Minister of State at the Department of Finance, in the most important and prestigious ministry. O'Malley was part of a new, brasher style of politician that emerged in the 1960s.

Cabinet careerEdit

Following Fianna Fáil's retention of power in the 1965 general election O'Malley joined the cabinet as Minister for Health. He spent just over a year in this position before he was appointed Minister for Education, a position in which he displayed renowned dynamism.

Having succeeded another dynamic young minister, Patrick Hillery, O'Malley acted swiftly to introduce the recommendations of an official report on education. Shortly after he was appointed, he announced that from 1969 all education up to Intermediate Certificate level would be free, and free buses would bring students in rural areas to their nearest school. O'Malley seems to have made this decision himself without consulting other ministers; however, he did discuss it with Lemass. Jack Lynch—who as Minister for Finance had to find the money to pay for this—was not consulted, and was dismayed at the announcement. O'Malley's proposals were hugely popular with the public, and it was impossible for the government to go back on his word.

As minister, O'Malley extended the school transport scheme and commissioned the building of new non-denominational comprehensive and community schools in areas where they were needed. He introduced Regional Technical Colleges (RTCs), now called Institutes of Technology, in areas where there was no third level college. The best example of this policy is the University of Limerick, originally an Institute of Higher Education, where O'Malley is credited with taking the steps to ensure that it became a university. His plan to merge Trinity College, Dublin and University College Dublin aroused huge controversy, and was not successful, despite being supported by his cabinet colleague Brian Lenihan. Access to third-level education was also extended, the old scholarship system being replaced by a system of means-tested grants that gave easier access to students without well-off parents.[7]

It is accepted in Ireland that O'Malley's extension of education, changing Ireland from a land where the majority were schooled only to the age of 14 to a country with universal secondary school education, led to the Celtic Tiger boom of the 1990s-2000s[8] when it was followed for some years by an extension of free education to primary degree level in university, a scheme that was launched in 1996 by the Labour Party and axed in 2009 by Fianna Fail's Batt O'Keeffe.[9]


O'Malley's reforms made him one of the most popular members of the government; he was affectionately known as 'the School Man' for his work in education. His sudden death in Limerick on 10 March 1968, before his vision for the education system was completed, came as a shock to the public. He was buried with a full Irish state funeral.

Following his death, his widow, Dr Hilda O'Malley, did not run in the subsequent by-election for the seat he had left vacant. It was won narrowly by their nephew Desmond O'Malley. Hilda sought the Fianna Fáil nomination for the 1969 general election, but Fianna Fáil gave the party nomination to Desmond, as the sitting TD. Hilda O'Malley ran as an Independent candidate in that election; after what proved a bitter campaign against her nephew, she failed to get the fourth seat in Limerick East by just 200 votes.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Donogh O'Malley". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  2. ^ Culliton, Gary (29 May 2008). "Memories of a charismatic minister, Donogh O'Malley". Irish Medical Times. Archived from the original on 18 December 2017. A new book, Unfulfilled Promise, outlines how Donogh was educated by the Jesuits in the Crescent School in Limerick and also Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare. He was both a bright student and a talented rugby player and he went on to play rugby for Connaught, Ulster and Munster before qualifying as a civil engineer at UCG.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-10-27. Retrieved 2016-10-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Donogh O'Malley". Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  7. ^
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External linksEdit

Civic offices
Preceded by
Patrick Kelly
Mayor of Limerick
Succeeded by
Frank Glasgow
Political offices
Preceded by
Joseph Brennan
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance
Succeeded by
Jim Gibbons
Preceded by
Seán MacEntee
Minister for Health
Succeeded by
Seán Flanagan
Preceded by
George Colley
Minister for Education
Succeeded by
Brian Lenihan