Lives Remembered

West Belfast schoolteacher had keen faith and sense of justice

Sean McCann was a teacher at St Thomas's secondary school in west Belfast

SEAN McCann was a schoolteacher and a devout Catholic with a keen sense of social justice.

He grew up on Malcolmson Street off west Belfast's Springfield Road, the eldest of nine children to John and Mary McCann.

The family later moved to Glenhill Park off the Glen Road and Sean was left to look after three of his sisters following the death of his mother.

He remained a carer to his sister Charlotte until her death last year.

A hurler with the John Mitchel club, Sean initially wanted to be a priest but trained as a teacher, spending most of his career at St Thomas's secondary school in Ballymurphy.

Nicknamed 'Dolly' or 'Elvis' for his blond quiff, he taught music and religious education and served on the staff alongside a young Seamus Heaney.

The school catered for children from some of the most deprived homes in the north, with many directly affected by the Troubles raging on the streets around them.

Sean supported families where he could and also became involved with the Association of Legal Justice, which recorded human rights abuses throughout much of the 1970s and '80s and raised concerns with police.

Clara Reilly, who worked alongside him for many years, said he acted as chairman of the group and handled all its correspondence with government ministers and other bodies.

Although a good listener and talker, he shied away from the limelight.

"If we visited families whose loved ones had been arrested and there wasn't loaf on the table, he would put a loaf on the table - not that he ever wanted anyone to know," she said.

After taking retirement Sean completed a doctorate at Durham University in the north-east of England.

He then dedicated a great deal of his time as a guardian to his niece and nephew, following the death of his sister Nora in 1996.

Sean was also a frequent letter writer to The Irish News under the name John McCann, usually on Church matters including abortion.

A man of devout faith, he was a daily communicant in St Theresa's parish.

Sean McCann died aged 87 on April 13. He is survived by his sister Mary, a former nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital, and family circle.