Feehan, Matthew (‘Matt’) (1913–90), soldier and newspaper editor, was born 11 November 1913 at 4 Great Denmark St., north-east of Rutland (later Parnell) Square, Dublin, youngest son of Matthew Feehan, grocer, and Aileen Feehan (née Boland), of Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. He was educated at the High School, Clonmel (where the family home was 8 Main St.) and at Blackrock College, Dublin. In the early 1930s he worked as a drapery salesman at Clery's department store, O'Connell St., Dublin. He was associated for most of his active life with the Fianna Fáil party; when the government of Éamon de Valera (qv) introduced an army reserve, the Volunteer Force, in March 1934 to attract men of a broadly republican background, Feehan eagerly enlisted as a private. He signed on for twelve years and devoted most of his spare time to the force, becoming an essentially military man.
As an aspiring leader in the 3rd Infantry Battalion, Regiment of Dublin, he developed a close friendship with fellow Volunteer Vivion de Valera (qv), son of the president of the executive council. Progressing through the ranks in parallel with young de Valera, Feehan was promoted corporal (February 1935) and sergeant (April), commissioned as a second lieutenant (March 1936) and promoted first lieutenant (May 1937). His efficiency and enthusiasm for discipline impressed his superiors, enabling him to sign on for permanent ‘emergency’ service at the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939. He had transferred to 11th (Dublin) Infantry Battalion during the preceding summer, and was promoted captain (June 1940) and commandant in June 1941, by which time he commanded A Company.
As commandant, Feehan became second-in-command of 5th (Dublin) Infantry Battalion. In February 1942 he was attached to HQ Eastern Command, within 2nd Division under Maj.-gen. Hugo McNeill (qv), where in March he became OC 41st Rifle Battalion of the part-time Local Defence Force (LDF). From April to November 1943 he was LDF area staff officer for north Dublin, then transferred to 7th Infantry Battalion (Volunteer Force) as CO. Promoted major in March 1945, he held his command till released from permanent service (at his own request) in December. For his youth and rank he was exceptional in the forces. In 1946 he was retained by the training and mobilisation depot, Eastern Command, at Portobello (later Cathal Brugha) barracks, where he was appointed major (November 1946) in the reserve of officers in the newly established part-time reserve, An Forsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCA). Feehan reached his highest rank, lieutenant-colonel, in March 1947 when the rank of major was formally abolished; he retired from the reserve in May 1971. Spending most of these years in training FCA personnel, he attended also to his civilian business career.
In 1949 Feehan was asked by Éamon de Valera and Seán Lemass (qv), at that time out of power, to apply his combined civilian and military skills to the founding of a new Sunday newspaper to be published by the Irish Press Ltd. His known and trusted relationship with the Fianna Fáil party (he served for a time on its national executive) made him seem the ideal to edit a newspaper that would be a powerful alternative to the Sunday Independent. He launched the Sunday Press from Burgh Quay, Dublin, on the first Sunday of September 1949 with a countrywide meitheal of near-fanatical cooperation between staff, regional outlets, and parish clergy to ensure saturation distribution. ‘Matt’ Feehan's military style of management at the Sunday Press could be both charming and alarming. His impatience was generally balanced with recognition of work well done, thus evoking optimum commitment and personal loyalty. He was probably best understood by the other ex-soldiers at senior level in the paper, namely director Vivion de Valera and assistant editor Douglas Gageby (qv). He kept rigorous accounts, making up in business acumen what he lacked in journalistic experience.
Although Feehan retired from the Sunday Press in 1962, his FCA activities, his work for the St Joseph's Young Priests Society, and a new crusade in the Kilmainham Jail Restoration Society extended his restless career. Practically till his death he followed the fortunes of Kilmainham with a biblical passion as it went from voluntary care to state ownership in the late 1980s. He lived finally at 7 Cambridge Road, Rathmines, Dublin, and died 9 October 1990, survived by his wife and family. He was interred at Redford cemetery, Greystones, Co. Wicklow.
‘Matt’ Feehan married (May 1945) Noreen, youngest daughter of J. J. O'Sullivan of Killorglin, Co. Kerry; they had a son, Michael, and a daughter, Ann. His sister was the music critic Frances (Fanny) Feehan (d. 1996), who was married to Mervyn Wall (qv).