Rafroidi, Patrick (1930–89), scholar, university professor, and administrator, was born 15 June 1930 in Arpajon, Essonne, France, elder son and second among four children of Gaston Rafroidi, from Arpajon, of middle-class extraction, and his wife Constance (‘Connie’) O'Rahilly, from Listowel, Co. Kerry. His siblings were Maureen, Gérard, and Jacqueline. The fourteen uncles and aunts on his mother's side included Alfred O'Rahilly (qv), president of UCC, and Thomas Francis O'Rahilly (qv) and Cecile O'Rahilly (qv), both Celtic scholars. He was educated in catholic schools. His studies led him from baccalauréat (Paris, 1949), to agrégation d'anglais (1958) and doctorat d'état (1971). He was successively professeur agrégé d'anglais at Lycée Corneille, Paris, and at École Supérieure des Lettres, Rouen (1958–60); assistant and maître-assistant, Faculté des Lettres, Lille (1960–65); chargé d'enseignement, Faculté des Lettres, Strasbourg (1965–9); chargé de cours, Faculté des Lettres, Lille (1969–71); maître de conférences (1971) and professeur (1972–80) at Lille University; nominated directeur de l'UER d'anglais (1970–75), vice-president (1970–72) and president (1976–80) of Université de Lille 3; research fellow, Australian National University, Canberra (1980–81); director of the Institut Français, London, and cultural attaché (1981–4); professeur, chaire d'études anglo-irlandaises, Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle, and chargé de mission aux relations internationales (1984–7); visiting professor, Queen's College, City University, New York (1985–6); and professeur émérite (1987).
A brilliant scholar, Rafroidi was soon to become a prominent figure in Irish studies. Though his first publications are not related to Ireland, they already bear the stamp of eclecticism, and romanticism emerges as a favourite field for literary analysis: Comédies (1961) and Poèmes (1964), contributions to Œuvres complètes de W. Shakespeare; Steinbeck (1962); Les poètes anglais au XIXe siècle: les romantiques (1968); and English romantic poets (anthology, 1969). His doctoral thesis L'Irlande et le romantisme (1972), a considerable explorative work, opens a new path in Irish studies. It was published in English under the title Irish literature in English: the romantic period, 1789–1850 (1980). A man of great learning, unwilling to be restricted by genres or periods, Rafroidi wrote on the Irish novel (The Irish novel in our time (co-ed., 1976)), the Irish short story (The Irish short story (ed., 1979)), the Irish theatre, the Anglo-Irish tradition, the Irish imagination, and specific writers such as Jonathan Swift (qv), Thomas Moore (qv), W. B. Yeats (qv), Sean O'Casey (qv), James Joyce (qv), Patrick Kavanagh (qv), Brian Moore (qv), Samuel Beckett (qv), Séamus Heaney (qv), Brian Friel (qv), and Desmond Egan. Irish critics highlight the fact that he offered a non-American and non-English perspective on Irish literature. ‘Patrick Rafroidi has always been Ireland's permanent literary ambassador to France’ (end of address on the conferring of an honorary doctorate on him by NUI, March 1986) – a mission he fulfilled through his research, his editing of collective works (France–Ireland literary relations (1974) and Ireland at the crossroads (1979)), the numerous entries he wrote for literary dictionaries and encyclopedias, the preface to the Guide Bleu, Littérature de notre temps: écrivains anglais et irlandais (1973), his organising symposiums at the University of Lille, in London, or at the Sorbonne, such as ‘Les belles étrangères’, devoted to Ireland (November 1989), which opened a few days after he died, and his meeting a great number of Irish writers whom he asked over to France. Translating Brian Moore, Friel, or Desmond Egan was another way to introduce French readers to contemporary Irish literature and culture. The last chapter of his Irlande, tome II: littérature (1970) offers an early display of his talent as a translator. Rafroidi was also a remarkable teacher whose numerous textbooks helped students throughout their English/Irish studies curricula: Travaux pratiques d'anglais (in collaboration, 1965, 1968, 1972), Manuel de l'angliciste: grammaire (1967), Manuel de l'angliciste: vocabulaire (in collaboration, 1967), Précis de stylistique anglaise (in collaboration, 1978), and Nouveau manuel de l'angliciste (1986). A detailed bibliography appears in Hayley & Murray, Ireland and France: a bountiful friendship. Rafroidi's teaching qualities and his commitment to Ireland and literature illuminated his seminars, lectures, and writings. Sometimes provocative, always convincing, he shunned literary snobbery and jargon, using a simple, lively, elegant style. He formed generations of French academics, encouraging young scholars in their research work, founding institutes and societies where Irish studies could develop, national complements to IASAIL (International Association for the Study of Anglo-Irish Literature, which he chaired 1976–9); CERIUL (Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches de l'Université de Lille 3, founded 1972, recognised by CNRS) and its library, latterly the Bibliothèque P. Rafroidi; and SOFEIR (Société Française d'Études Irlandaises, founded 1981), of which he was vice-president 1981–4, president 1984–7, and honorary president 1988. He also founded (1972) and edited the review Études Irlandaises.
A man of action as well as a scholar, a musician (he played the organ), and a poet, he went through life, private sphere and career, with energy, generosity, a touch of the baroque, and fiery enthusiasm, looking on the world with humour, a somewhat enigmatic smile flitting on his lips. His volume of poems, Approximations (1980), discloses a part of his inner self.
He was awarded the following distinctions: Chevalier de l'Ordre de la Couronne, Belgium (1979), Gold Cross of Merit, Poland (1979), Officier de l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques (1981), Officier de l'Ordre National du Mérite (1981), D.Litt. (Hon.) NUI (1986), D.Litt. (Hon.) University of Stirling (1987). He died in Paris, 15 November 1989.
He married first Jeanne Franc; secondly (13 May 1978) Christiane Thilliez, with whom he had two sons, Yvain and Liam (b. 24 September 1970, d. 1 November 1985). He married thirdly (29 May 1981) Anne Brines; they had a son, Pierre-Emmanuel, and a daughter, Livia.