Breathnach, Micheál (‘Tóchar Mhairtin’) (1886–1987), civil servant, was born 26 October 1886 in Sylane, Tuam, Co. Galway, youngest of seven sons of Michael Walsh (originally of Kilmaine, Co. Mayo), principal of Sylane national school, and Bridget Walsh (née Joyner), schoolteacher, of Wood Quay, Tuam. A native Irish-speaker, he was educated at St Jarlath's, Tuam, and UCG (BA 1907). In 1915 he graduated with a first-class honours MA in Celtic studies (UCD) and in 1917 with an HDip.Ed. (UCD). A secondary-school teacher (1909–23) at Mount St Josephs, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, and later in Dublin, he joined the civil service in July 1923 as a national school inspector. In July 1924 he became a secondary school inspector and with Leon Ó Broin (qv) and George Nicholls founded An Gúm (Breathnach's nomenclature) to publish much-needed books in Irish. From An Gúm he was appointed general inspector for Irish in 1931, and in November 1932 was promoted to assistant chief inspector of secondary schools. He was secretary of the Department of Education (February 1944–31 March 1953) during the first major INTO strike (20 March–30 October 1946). Innately conservative and insular, the department under Breathnach lacked both imagination and dynamism. In 1951, before the collapse of the inter-party government, Richard Mulcahy (qv) arranged with the minister for finance that Breathnach would be retained as secretary for two years after his scheduled retirement.
A prolific author in the Irish language, Breathnach published essays, plays, anthologies, textbooks, and translations. In 1931 the Abbey Theatre produced ‘Cor in aghaidh an Cháim’ (1931) and in 1933 the Peacock Theatre produced ‘Draoidheacht Chaitlín’. He was chairman of the Library Council of Ireland 1955–62, and during his term of office Improvement of the public library service (1958) was produced. His autobiography, Cuimhne an tSeanpháiste, was published in 1966. He died 18 May 1987 at Beaumont convalescent home, Dublin.
He married (1909) Nora O' Halloran, daughter of a publican of Abbeygate St., Galway. They lived at 26 St Lawrence's Road, Clontarf, and had four sons and one daughter.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).