Davin legacy honoured as memorial statue of GAA founder is unveiled in hometown

GAA President Liam O'Neill unveils the memorial statue of Maurice Davin at Davin Park in Carrick-on-Suir last Saturday.
Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

GAA President Liam O’Neill pledged to continue the “radical” legacy of Maurice Davin in achieving significant reforms during his two year tenure as he unveiled a statue of the organisation’s co-founder before a crowd of more than 1000 in Carrick-on-Suir last Saturday afternoon.

The unveiling of the impressive nine-foot statue outside Davin Park was attended by two past presidents of the GAA, other senior GAA figures, South Tipperary’s three TDs and senator, the town’s mayor and councillors, local clergy and up to 70 relatives of the renowned athlete, who was the GAA’s first president as well as its co-founder.

Earlier in the day, the GAA president laid a wreath at Maurice Davin’s grave at Churchtown Cemetery a few miles from Carrick-on-Suir .

In his address, Mr O’Neill said the number of people at the ceremony was testament to what Maurice Davin meant to all of them, and it was a great honour for him as the 36th successor to Maurice Davin to unveil this statue.

He said Maurice Davin and his comrades were radicals in the 1880s and he didn’t believe that being conservative was the right way to honour these leaders, who weren’t happy with following the status quo.

After 129 years, he said it was time they looked at putting the five different organisations over Gaelic Games in the country including the GAA and governing organisations of ladies football, camogie, handball and rounders under the one united GAA structure.

He believed the way forward was for the GAA to be inclusive and that boys and girls and women, who play Gaelic Games pay the one fee to the one central organisation and be treated equally as the men of 1884 would have wished.

Referring to Davin’s renown as a track & field athlete, Mr O’Neill also spoke of his plans for the GAA to form an alliance with Athletics Ireland and seeking funding to get athletics tracks developed at GAA grounds around the country as a way to further promote sporting activity among young people. He believed this would be a great way of honouring Davin.

Maurice Davin Festival Committee Chairman Bobby Fitzgerald read a special message from President of Ireland Michael D Higgins paying tribute to Maurice Davin at the ceremony.

Mr Fitzgerald said Maurice Davin must have been a man of great self belief to do what he did and pointed out that his fingerprints were all over the town. “The amount of work being done by the GAA clubs with the children of the town is a joy to behold,” he said.

Mayor of Carrick-on-Suir Cllr Liam Walsh, Tipperary GAA County Board Chairman Sean Nugent, South Tipperary GAA Board Chairman Joe Brennan were the other speakers at the hour long ceremony that also included a blessing of the statue by Mons. Richard O’Mahoney, standing in for Bishop of Waterford & Lismore Dr William Lee, Rev George Cliffe and the priests of Carrick-on-Suir.

Shortly afterwards, former GAA President and MEP Sean Kelly officially opened an exhibition of memorabilia relating to Maurice Davin’s sporting achievements and the history of Carrick-on-Suir’s Davins, Swan and St Molleran’s GAA Clubs in The Carraig Hotel.

Mr Kelly said Maurice Davin’s role in the GAA was absolutely crucial as he kept the organisation together when it was in danger of splitting in its early years.

“He had leadership in abundance and at all times was moving things forward. When they did something he didn’t agree with he resigned but he came back again. He is the only person to have served two terms as GAA President,” he recalled. At the exhibition opening, Maurice Davin’s grand nephew Pat Walsh described the story behind the various trophies and other memorabilia associated with his famous relative’s sporting achievements on display.

Mr Walsh, who was a member of the Maurice Davin Festival Committee, said he was delighted Davin had been honoured in his hometown and he thought the statue sculpted by Ennis based Barry Wrafter was a brilliant image of his grand uncle.

“I have to congratulate the Maurice Davin Festival Committee for organising this event. I think it’s a credit to the town of Carrick-on-Suir. Maurice Davin gave 60 to 70 years of his life dedicated to athletics and GAA. He brought honour and glory to Co. Tipperary and Ireland,” added Mr Walsh.

The Davin Festival continued on Sunday morning when former World 5000m champion Eamonn Coghlan led a one-mile in the town that started and finished at Davin Park. Carrick Davins hurler Lee Mackey was first over the line.

Mr Coghlan, who travelled to Carrick by motorbike, said he was invited to lead the run by his Seanad colleague Cllr Denis Landy some months ago and was delighted to support the celebrations honouring one of the world’s great athletes of the past.

The festivities concluded on Sunday afternoon with a fun athletics field day in Davin Park that attracted a large crowd of young competitors.