John Pentland Mahaffy
1914 – 1919 (c. 1839-1919)

John Pentland Mahaffy was born in Switzerland, where his father held a chaplaincy, and spent part of his childhood in Germany.1 This gave him a cosmopolitan outlook and a knowledge of foreign languages which stood him in good stead.  After graduating in classics and philosophy in 1859, he was elected Fellow in 1864.  His first publication was on Kant, but he then turned to the history of Greece, especially its social aspects.  A chair of Ancient History was created for him in 1871.  In his later years he wrote much on the history of the College. Provost Traill had appointed him Vice Provost in Trinity term 1913 and as Traill’s health began to fail the following year, Mahaffy found himself in virtual charge.2 He was appointed Provost in November 1914 at the age of 75. In 1918 he was made a Knight Grand Cross of the British Empire, when it was almost unprecedented for a knighthood to be conferred on a clergyman.3 Mahaffy died in April 1919, the month in which Eamon de Valera, who had been briefly on the books at Trinity as a student in the early 1900s, was elected President of Dáil Eireann, the new republican assembly that claimed to be the legitimate government of Ireland.4

Painting Details

By Walter Osborne
Oil on canvas

  1. Anne Crookshank and David Webb, Paintings and Sculptures in Trinity College Dublin (Dublin, 1990), p. 96.
  2. J.V. Luce, Trinity College Dublin, The First 400 Years (Dublin, 1992), p.129.
  3. Anne Crookshank and David Webb, Paintings and Sculptures in Trinity College Dublin (Dublin, 1990), p. 96.
  4. J.V. Luce, Trinity College Dublin, The First 400 Years (Dublin, 1992), p.132.