Gleeson, Martin Maurice (1902–84), vocational teacher and administrator, was born 5 November 1902 at Stratford-on-Slaney, Co. Wicklow, the third of four children (two boys and two girls) of Martin M. Gleeson, a national school principal in Stratford-on-Slaney, and Mary Gleeson (née Walsh). He was educated initially at his father's school and then in Rockwell College, Cashel, Co. Tipperary (1914–20), Blackrock College, Dublin (1920–21), St. Patrick's teacher training college, Drumcondra, Dublin, and as a night student in UCD, graduating BA (1931), H.Dip.Ed. (1932), MA (by thesis on brehon education) (1934) and B.Comm. (1939).
He played rugby for Blackrock College, Blackrock RFC's senior team and UCD; he also hurled at Blackrock and boxed for UCD. Capped for the Leinster rugby team, he was a member of the team that won the 1931/2 inter-provincial cup and had a trial for the national team. He later re-introduced rugby into the vocational schools (which, with cricket and hockey, had been excluded in 1936 with the formation of the Central Students' Union (CSU) for sport and cultural pursuits – later titled the Sports and Cultural Council (SCC)). Although the state-sponsored Tailteann games, which were run in 1924, 1928 and 1932, were not continued by the new Fianna Fáil government after 1932, teachers in the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee (CDVEC) felt that the spirit of these games should be continued in the schools. As ex-officio president of the CSU, Gleeson promoted these activities with enthusiasm and presented two Gleeson cups for sports among the schools and colleges in the CDVEC, an All-Round Cup (1957) for the best over-all school, and the Irish Colleges Rugby Union Gleeson Cup (1963), initially played for among the CDVEC colleges and gradually widened to all-Ireland colleges.
Gleeson worked as a national school teacher in a number of schools in Dublin (1924–34) in Rialto, Blanchardstown, Westland Row CBS, and St Michael and St John's, before returning to Stratford-on-Slaney (1933–4), and then teaching in Cabra national school. In September 1936 he was appointed headmaster of Marino vocational school, which was opening its doors for the first time as part of the CDVEC's board of studies' policy of creating regional schools. The appointment was questioned in the dáil on 22 July 1936 by Richard Anthony (qv), independent labour TD for Cork Borough, who was assured by the minister for education, Thomas Derrig (qv), that it had been made after an open competition announced in the press.
On becoming principal at Marino, Gleeson was automatically a member of the CDVEC board of studies, which in 1936 produced a far-seeing plan to upgrade the five existing higher technological colleges and to build a series of regional second- level vocational schools in areas such as Cabra and Inchicore, of which his own school, Marino, had been the first. He was to become the main agent to implement this expansionist policy. In Marino he was an active principal and built up a wide range of classes for boys and girls. He was appointed director in 1943 of Comhairle Le Leas Óige, an organisation set up to provide suitable training for young people from 14 to 18 years of age. Appointed CEO of the CDVEC in April 1944, he proved to be a dynamic chief executive, forever building new schools and widening the activities of students. By the time of his retirement in 1968 there were twenty-two vocational schools and six technological colleges (one of which, the College of Music, exceptionally catered for music for all ages).
In 1950 he met Sir Graham Savage, director of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), and they arranged to run a biannual boxing tournament between Dublin vocational schools and ILEA schools, which continued from 1950 until 1973, when travel difficulties caused by the oil crisis and the Northern Ireland troubles brought it to an end. The CDVEC rejoined the Association of Technical Institutes (ATI) (for Great Britain and Ireland) in 1952, greatly aiding the development of CDVEC technological colleges. The 1956 ATI annual report included a thirty-page outline of the Dublin scheme prepared by Gleeson. In 1952 he was also a member of the youth unemployment commission, chaired by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid (qv) of Dublin, one of whose recommendations was to extend the school-leaving age to 15 years. A supreme pragmatist, Gleeson did not oppose McQuaid's insistence on making all vocational schools single sex (though some committee members did), but proceeded apace with building and developing schools and colleges.
The famous document Economic development by Dr T. K. Whitaker appeared in 1958, leading to a re-evaluation of Irish economic and educational policy in which Gleeson was to the forefront. In June 1958 he went on an educational tour of the USA as part of the Marshall aid programme for Ireland and returned with the conviction that courses for technicians needed to be introduced into Ireland. These were begun in September 1958 in Bolton Street College of Technology, Dublin. Arising from his tour, he published The United States education system (1958). Under his guidance, in 1960 the first schools psychological service in Ireland was introduced into the CDVEC, as a career guidance service and personal help service. He and Sean Ó Ceallaigh, principal of Rathmines College of Commerce, were founding members in 1960 of the Irish Management Institute (IMI), which ran a range of management courses. Gleeson was also chairman of the apprenticeship board, a founding member and chairman of the Council for Education, Recruitment and Training (CERT) for the catering and tourism industries, and a member of the committee of An Comhairle Oiliúna (AnCo). In 1956, under the chairmanship of John Ingram (qv), he organised a high-level committee to report on the further development of the six technological colleges.
As a leading public servant, he was sometimes called on by Martin Keady, chairman of the labour court and a former principal of Bolton Street College of Technology, to engage the parties and adjudicate in industrial disputes. In 1958, for example, he was appointed to enquire into the shipping dispute, and in 1963 was appointed chairman of the commission to enquire into pay procedures in the ESB. In the 1960s, as a delegate to the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA; the umbrella body for the thirty-eight VECs), he repeatedly called for the appointment of a full-time general secretary and the establishment of a whole-time secretariat for the IVEA. With the announcement of free secondary education in 1965, Gleeson redoubled his efforts to build schools and enlarge existing ones.
He was due to retire from the CDVEC in 1968 but was asked to remain as CEO until 1970. In 1968, on the recommendation of Archbishop McQuaid, he was made a papal knight of the Order of Saint Gregory. A man of vision and inspiration, he affected colleagues with his cheerful and powerful optimism. John Swift (qv), a leading trade unionist and member of CDVEC in the 1940s and 1950s, recalled that Gleeson gave him every assistance with his committee work and treated every member of every political party with the utmost fairness and respect.
In 1933 Gleeson married Eileen Egan (d. 1937); they had one daughter and two sons. He married secondly, in 1941, Mary Costello (d. 1994); they had two daughters. He died at his home on 3 February 1984. A portrait hangs in the Gleeson Hall, Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Kevin Street.