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An enduring legacy: an appreciation of the life and work of Seán Hutton

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Seán’s career was dedicated to deepening the understanding of Irish culture, history and our diaspora for new audiences.

Our friend and colleague, Seán Hutton, who passed away this week had a distinguished and celebrated career as a poet, gaeilgeoir, writer, researcher and teacher for over 60 years. We were honoured to work alongside him in his role as policy lead with the Federation of Irish Societies, latterly Irish in Britain, for 25 years up to his retirement in 2018.

Seán was born on 18 November 1940 in Dublin, and educated in Hacketstown, Co. Carlow and St Mary’s College, Rathmines, before attending UCD and later a research scholarship in history at Hull University.

He worked as a history tutor at a grammar school in Bridlington, Yorkshire, 1969 - 88, and published a number of poetry collections including Go Cathair Na Traoi (1980), Gáirdín Mo Sheanuncail (1983), and Na Grása (1993). His collection Seachrán Ruairí agus Dánta Eile (Coiscéim, 1986) was awarded Duais Sheáin Uí Ríordáin.


He was a naturally fluent teacher, educator and communicator, working as Executive Director of the British Association of Irish Studies from 1988 - 1992, and as association Chair in 1994 in their mission to encourage and support Irish cultural activities, and the study of Ireland and Irish culture, in Britain. 

Seán was a member and later Secretary of the Council of The Irish Texts Society, as well as a member of the Irish Transfrontier Committee, London/Dublin, 1997 and the advisory group for the Irish Youth Foundation, London, 1996.

As a man of letters, he was a valued member of the Irish Literary Society, also serving as its Chair, and regularly contributed to periodicals and journals in Ireland, Britain and beyond.

He was a committee member of the London Irish LGBT Network and was an equality and rights campaigner for Irish and other groups throughout his career.

His work at the Federation of Irish Societies developed pioneering policy initiatives in community health and representation – securing Irish cultural recognition in the 2001 UK census.

Seán’s successful representations for inclusion in the census to the ONS (Office for National Statistics) broadened understanding of our community’s demographic profile for policy makers, local authorities and grant bodies.

This new information, coupled with Seán’s research reputation helped secure funding from the UK Department of Health, the Home Office and increases in grants from the Irish Government for community projects to tackle health inequality and promote inclusion.

Intellect and humility

As a person he had that rare but welcome combination of humility and fierce intellect, underpinned by an open generosity to share his time and his learning. He wrote beautifully, with precision and persuasion and testament to the value he placed in words and how to deploy them.

All who worked with and knew him will feel privileged to have been part of his story. His warmth and humour made him the best of company.

For the wider Irish community his legacy will endure because Seán’s career was dedicated to deepening the understanding of Irish culture, history and our diaspora for new audiences. His work fostered new interest in diaspora culture across British political and cultural institutions and with the British public.

Our shared history tells us that when people better understand each other trust is enabled, change becomes possible and progress can be realised. Ireland and the Irish community in Britain have much to thank him for in a life lived in service of these ideals and in celebration of all that is possible for us to achieve and create.

Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.

Brian Dalton, CEO Irish in Britain

Seán "represented the best of us"

Read a statement from President Michael Higgins on Seán's life and contribution.