Born in Dublin in 1920, he was educated at the High School, Dublin and Trinity College, Dublin (of which he was an Honorary Fellow); he was also a Research Fellow of Royal Holloway, University of London and of Oriel College, Oxford. He taught in University College Dublin (Classics); in Holland and Edinburgh (English) and held Chairs (English) in Adelaide, Leeds and Stirling. He had travelled widely, lecturing on Irish literature from the US to the USSR and in parts of Africa, the Middle East, India and Europe. He was a member of the Order of Australia, for services to Australian Literature, and gained honorary degrees from the Universities of Lille, France and Ulster.
Although Prof. Jeffares' main interest was Irish Literature, he edited 24 Restoration comedies for the Folio Society and was considered an expert on Walt Whitman. His main work has been on Yeats but he edited and wrote on many Irish writers. His co-edited work includes The Poetry of Joyce in Prose and Verse; Irish Childhoods; Ireland's Women and the Gonne-Yeats Letters.
Norman Jeffares founded IASIL (the International Association for the Study of Irish Literature) and ACLCAS (Association for the Study of Commonwealth Literature).
In public life Norman Jeffares was Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Arts Council; member, Arts Council Great Britain; Vice President Royal Society of Edinburgh; Chairman, Book Trust Scotland and was largely responsible as Chairman of Literature, SAC, for getting the prestigious Edinburgh Book Festival into being.
He died in 2005.