Feehan, John (Seán) (1916–91), publisher and writer, was born 8 September 1916 in Ballinree, Dualla, Cashel, Co. Tipperary, the elder of two sons of Thomas Feehan, teacher, Ballytarsna, and his wife, Catherine O'Connor, teacher, of Dualla. His brother Gerard died aged two, and his mother ten months afterwards. His father later remarried and had two sons, James and Thomas. He was educated at Ballinure and Ballytarsna primary schools, Thurles CBS, Coláiste Eanna, Rockwell College and UCG. While at UCG he befriended and became an assistant to Frank Dermody, the theatre director at Taidhbhearc na Gaillimhe (and later at the Abbey Theatre). Owing to straitened financial circumstances he did not complete his degree. He entered the military college at the Curragh in 1938, was commissioned as a second lieutenant and rose to the rank of captain in 1940. Stationed at Collins Barracks, Cork, he was appointed training supervisor of the Local Defence Forces for the Southern Command for the duration of the war.
He married Mary Kissane in 1944 and they had two sons, Gerard and Sean, and two daughters, Kathleen and Mary. In the same year he and his wife founded Mercier Press, Cork, with a capital of £90. He was primarily responsible for transforming a one-room, one-typist operation into the one of the largest independent publishing houses in Ireland. The book that launched his publishing career was The magic of life by Professor James O'Mahony (d. 1962) of UCC. He published Dom Eugene Boylan's (qv) This tremendous lover (1946), which sold over a million copies. Resigning from the army in 1950, he become a full-time publisher and quickly established a worldwide reputation in the area of religious publishing, securing translation rights of German theological and philosophical works. His aim was to explore Irish history and culture and publish books that would be representative of Ireland. He also wanted to play a part in informing opinion on controversial issues of Irish history. He wrote ten books himself and broadened Mercier's religious base to embrace Irish history, folklore, archaeology and literature. In 1983, his company published the jail diaries of hunger striker, Bobby Sands (qv), later translated into several languages.
He was a public figure in his own right, having strong republican ideals on which he was often outspoken and was the author of controversial books on the life of Charles J. Haughey (1925–2006). In Operation brogue (1984), he claimed that Haughey, when taoiseach, had been the target of a British plan to split the Fianna Fáil party, though in The statesman (1985) he predicted Haughey would stand up to the British. He later regretted his assessment of Haughey, writing a follow-up book entitled An apology to the Irish people. He helped revive interest in many Irish writers of importance, such as Daniel Corkery (qv) (1878–1964), Sean Ó Faolain (qv), Charles Kickham (qv), J. M. Synge (qv), and Kate O'Brien (qv). He published all the plays of John B. Keane (qv), followed by Keane's successful series of letters from fictional characters such as matchmakers, parish priests, love-hungry farmers and TDs. His enthusiasm for sailing led to several books about the coast of Ireland, including The wind that round the Fastnet sweeps (later The secret places of the west Cork coast, 1978). After the death of his wife in 1971, he wrote a poignant memoir of her life and death, Tomorrow to be brave (1974). His other publications include An Irish publisher and his world (1969) and The shooting of Michael Collins (1981). My village, my world (1992) was completed the day before he died. He spent his later life at his home in Crosshaven, Co. Cork and remained as chairman of Mercier Press until his death.
Feehan died at the Mercy hospital, Cork, 25 May 1991, and is buried in Dualla.