Lives Remembered

Patsy Donnelly: Exemplary Gael was man of few words but mighty action

Patsy Donnelly was a huge part of the fabric of St John's GAC in west Belfast

THE theologian Albert Schweitzer once said: "Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing" - and Patsy Donnelly lived this statement to the full.

Patsy was an exemplary member of the GAA and the epitome of every quality and attribute we associate with good leadership.

Born in 1928 in Beechmount Street in west Belfast, he was one of a family of 10, with two of his siblings dying in infancy, another as a teenager and a further three in their forties.

The only one to outlive Patsy is his brother Larry, who has lived in Canada for 60 years and whom he visited at the age of 89 two years ago.

Patsy attended both St Paul’s and St Mary’s Primary Schools and then St Mary’s in Barrack Street.

He had no family connections with St John’s GAC but he often said that if you lived in Beechmount, you automatically joined.

He began playing in 1945 at the age of 15 and by 17 he was elected treasurer. This immediately presents us with an impression of a very honourable, well grounded, trustworthy young man.

For the next six years Patsy carried out his role in what would be accepted as difficult times for the club.

He married Marion Dempster in 1953 and together they raised a family of five - Jim, Patricia, Lauranne, Deirdre and Colin.

With Marion’s support, Patsy continued to work tirelessly for St John’s.

His day job was as a bread man for Inglis Bakery and while doing his rounds he made sure that he communicated information about matches and training to players or their family members.

It was on his rounds too, in 1945, that he spotted a set of blue and white Umbro jerseys in a shop window in The Markets and promptly bought them. These were to be the first bought jerseys which the club could call their own.

Patsy played junior hurling for St John's and was an Antrim minor football selector in 1950, but it was in club administration that he gave so generously of his life.

His commitment and dedication spanned the difficult years of the Troubles. He was chairman of St John's during 1980/81 and admitted it was a very tough period, keeping the club going through the Hunger Strikes.

Patsy was very proud of his family and loved the fact that his sons Jim and Colin followed in his footsteps into club administration, as well as playing football and hurling.

He was immensely happy when Colin was elected to the role of county chairman and so proud of his achievements in that role.

Patsy Donnelly was a man of few words and mighty actions. He motivated many to get behind their club and work for the good of others and his legacy is evident today.

In his late eighties, he was one of the original 'Golden Eagles' who met monthly in Corrigan Park. His leadership continued to shine whenever he was in the room.

At one gathering he asked to speak to the group. His topic was about one of his contemporaries, Tommy Best. He extolled the virtues of Tommy as a great sportsman and left the group fully aware why we so rightly have an annual Tommy Best tournament in his honour.

Patsy was a huge part of the fabric of St John’s and his name will go down in the history of the club.

It is particularly poignant that St John’s celebrates 90 years in 2019. Patsy would have been so proud to have been there to join in the celebrations with the people who built the club with him.

Those people know only too well that Patsy’s example, courage, determination and hard toil has made St John’s a club to be proud of.

The month's memory Mass for Patsy will take place tomorrow at 10.30am in St Agnes's Church, Andersonstown.

The Donnelly family will then join with other St John’s families who have lost a loved one this year on Saturday November 24 at 7.30pm in the function room in Corrigan Park.

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Lives Remembered