Albert Joseph Marcel Folens

(15/10/1916 - 09/09/2003)

Albert Joseph Marcel Folens, a Belgian-born publisher of educational materials, left a significant mark on the educational landscape of Ireland. Born on October 15, 1916, in Bissegem, West Flanders, Folens came from a devout Catholic family with a strong Flemish identity. His early life was marked by a commitment to both his faith and his cultural heritage, factors that would shape his later endeavours.

Folens’ educational journey began in a Catholic boarding school, where he received his early education. Later, he entered a novitiate with the De La Salle Brothers, reflecting his deep religious convictions. However, in 1939, before taking his final vows, he made the significant decision to leave the novitiate. This choice led to a permanent rupture with his devoutly Catholic family, highlighting the depth of his commitment to his beliefs.

His departure from the novitiate was not only a religious turning point but also a pivotal moment in his nationalist fervour. Folens became actively involved in the Flemish nationalist movement, which had developed fascist tendencies during the interwar period. His commitment to Flemish identity was deeply rooted, possibly stemming from his childhood admiration for Hendrik Conscience’s historical novel, “The Lion of Flanders.” This devotion to Flemish culture and language would later shape his political and personal decisions.

During the tumultuous period of the Second World War, Folens’ nationalist sentiments led him to join the Flemish Legion in 1941. This group of collaborators hoped to achieve Flemish independence by collaborating with the Third Reich. However, Folens’ loyalty to the Belgian king conflicted with the oath demanded by the SS, leading him to refuse allegiance to Hitler. His wartime experiences were complex and controversial, marked by allegations of collaboration and subsequent imprisonment.

Following the war, Folens faced the consequences of his actions. Sentenced to ten years in prison for collaboration, he spent time in captivity before eventually escaping. In 1948, he arrived in Ireland with his wife Juliette, seeking refuge and a fresh start. Their journey to Ireland marked a new chapter in their lives, one filled with challenges and opportunities.

In Ireland, Folens embarked on a career in education and publishing that would leave an impact. The Folens family resided in rented accommodations, initially in Dún Laoghaire, before relocating to 16 Harty Avenue, Walkinstown, as Albert sought employment as a commercial translator.  Beginning with humble origins, he and Juliette started printing school notes in their garage in 1957. This venture quickly gained traction, reflecting a keen understanding of the educational needs of the time. In 1960, Folens made the bold decision to retire from teaching and focus full-time on publishing, founding the Folens Educational Publishing Company.

Under Folens’ leadership, the company flourished, becoming a major publisher of educational materials in Ireland. Their publications filled a crucial gap in the market, providing students and teachers with well-designed and accessible resources. Despite initial challenges and setbacks, Folens’ determination and entrepreneurial spirit propelled the company to success.

Throughout his career, Folens remained committed to his Flemish heritage and Catholic faith. Despite the controversies surrounding his wartime activities, he found solace and acceptance in Ireland. His contributions to education were widely recognized, and his legacy endures through the continued success of the Folens Educational Publishing Company.

In his later years, Folens faced health challenges but remained resilient and determined. His passing in 2003 marked the end of an era, but his impact on Irish education lives on. Albert Joseph Marcel Folens’ life story is a testament to the complexities of identity, ideology, and resilience in the face of adversity. His journey from Belgium to Ireland is a remarkable tale of transformation and triumph, reflecting the enduring power of education and the human spirit.

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Connection with area: Educational publisher who lived in 16 Harty Avenue, Walkinstown for part of his life.