Cregan, Donal Francis (1911–95), priest, educationist, and historian, was born 16 May 1911 in Newcastlewest, Co. Limerick, only son among three children of John D. Cregan, shopkeeper, and Elizabeth Cregan (née Foley). He attended (1924–9) Castleknock College, Dublin, after which he went to UCD, graduating in 1933 with a first-class honours degree in history and English. He continued his study of history at UCD and was awarded an MA (1937) and later a Ph.D. (1948) for his thesis on the confederation of Kilkenny, which was supervised by Robert Dudley Edwards (qv). In 1930 Donal Cregan joined the Vincentian Congregation, and was ordained priest in 1936. From 1937 to 1957 he was on the staff of Castleknock College, serving as president 1950–57. He was appointed president of St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, in 1957, a post he held until his retirement in 1976. From 1973 to 1975 he also held the post of acting professor of education at UCD. He chaired the Irish Manuscripts Commission (1977–87), substantially reviving the commission's publication programme.
Cregan's appointment to St Patrick's College was made by the archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid (qv), who perceived that reforms were required in teacher education. Seven years after his appointment the government's Second programme for economic expansion, part II (1964) saw improved and extended educational facilities as necessary ‘to equalise opportunities’ (p. 193). The reform of teacher education became a major component of educational change, one in which Cregan played a major role. At St Patrick's College he undertook a programme, supported by the state and completed in 1967, for the renovation of existing buildings and the construction of new ones (his major achievement at Castleknock had been the building of the 1956 schoolhouse). New accommodation was designed with the intention of providing an environment in which students would be accorded greater freedom and responsibility and which would be conducive to the development of independent thinking, judgement, and decision-making, all of which Cregan considered to be inadequately nurtured in the Irish education system. He greatly expanded the curriculum in the college, paying particular attention to the preparation of students to teach religion. Central to Cregan's reforms was the goal of obtaining degree status for primary-school teachers. His efforts bore fruit in 1975 when St Patrick's was granted the status of a recognised college of the NUI. Cregan also perceived the need for the provision of a variety of new services in a changing education system, and responded by setting up in 1961 at St Patrick's a course for teachers of children with special needs and in 1965 the college's Educational Research Centre. He founded two periodicals, Studia Hibernica (1961) and the Irish Journal of Education (1967), both of which he edited for many years.
Throughout his life, Cregan made his services available to several organisations. He chaired the Catholic Headmasters Association (1952–7), was appointed to the council of the Economic and Social Research Institute in 1966, and served as educational consultant to the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon and to UNESCO. He was chaplain to the Sovereign Military Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, and in the early 1970s a founder member of the British Irish Association, whose other members included Paddy Lynch (qv) and Desmond Williams (qv), both of whom he held in high regard.
President of the Irish Historical Society (1969–71), he maintained his interest in seventeenth-century history throughout his life, though his administrative work deprived him of opportunities for research and writing. His published work as an historian was slight, but his influence was considerable, not least in the wise counsel and inspiration he provided for research students sent to him for advice (including Jane Ohlmeyer and Micheál Ó Siochrú). His published historical writing included ‘Daniel O'Neill, a royalist agent in Ireland, 1644–50’, in IHS, ii (1940–41), 398–414; ‘Irish catholic admissions to the English inns of court, 1558–1625’, in Ir. Jurist, v (1970), 95–114; ‘Irish recusant lawyers in politics in the reign of James I’, in Ir. Jurist, v (1970), 306–20; and ‘The social and cultural background of a counter-reformation episcopate’, in A. Cosgrove and D. McCartney (ed.), Studies in Irish history presented to R. Dudley Edwards (1979), 85–117. The bibliography of his historical writing (Ó Siochrú (ed.), Kingdoms in crisis, 251) includes Cregan's review of the early modern volume of A new history of Ireland (1976) which, in Aidan Clarke's words, ‘elucidates Cregan's values: he approved of order, clarity, objectivity and intellectual sophistication . . . These were precisely his own virtues’ (Ó Siochrú, 250).
He died in Dublin on 13 October 1995 and was buried in Castleknock College. A conference to celebrate his contribution to seventeenth-century historical studies was held in Drumcondra in March 1999. Portraits by John Kelly hang in St Patrick's College and Castleknock College.