Lives Remembered

Dean Anthony Davies: Armagh-born cleric was loved by people of Down

FATHER Anthony Davies was ordained to the priesthood in May 1959 and six months later won a Down senior football championship medal.

The irony was that this son of Armagh should have been overseas instead of beginning more than 60 years of parish devotion in the neighbouring diocese of Dromore.

Born into a family of 12 children in Tandragee in 1932, the young Anthony attended the local St James' Primary School and progressed to St Patrick’s, Armagh.

Following his studies in the cathedral city he left the archdiocese for St Peter’s College, Wexford – and never really returned.

Earmarked for missionary work in Australia, he was refused a visa to travel on health grounds as he had suffered from TB during his youth.

Instead a vacancy arose for a curate in the parish of Donaghmore on the northern side of Newry.

Fr Davies immediately joined the Glenn GAA club and was corner-forward on the senior football team that won the first of their three championship titles six months later, with a 3-4 to 0-5 win over Rostrevor.

The team also included PJ McElroy and the McCartan brothers, James and Dan, who would bring back-to-back All-Ireland titles to Down over the next two years.

Over six decades this amiable cleric was to associate with the GAA club in each of his parishes.

He once told me that, on each appointment, he would go down to the pitch to meet his parishioners and the pay-back was always loyalty, warmth and friendship.

In Gargory from 1959-62 he became chairman of Liatroim Fontenoys and established “schoolboy football” there, nurturing talent that would produce successive minor championship wins and 1968 All-Ireland medallists Willie Doyle and Colm McAlarney.

His next appointment was for 18 years in Newry where he played football for Ballyholland and hurling for Shamrocks.

His greatest achievement, however, was in helping coach Sacred Heart to the All-Ireland Colleges’ senior camogie title in 1971 and four years later the St Brigid’s club in the town would become Ulster club champions.

Thus would begin his association with camogie, becoming the first male chair of both the provincial schools’ council and the main Ulster Council.

By the time of his death he was honorary president of both bodies as well as the Down Board, completing more than half a century of unbroken service.

There are also two provincial schools’ cups named in his honour as well as a Down GAA shield.

Fr Davies also chaired the South Down GAA Board and closely aligned with the clubs while in Rostrevor (1980-90), Dromara (1990-95) and Clonduff (1995-2009).

After that he retired from pastoral work to Rostrevor where he lived until his recent death.

He was elevated to the diocesan chapter in 2000 and became Dean in 2003. But seldom did he get the title.

His many friends still referred to him simply as “Fr Davies” or “Fr Tony”.

While it is often difficult, once involved, to step away from the GAA or camogie, one of his clerical colleagues said recently that Fr Tony never wanted to. He was comfortable there among friends.

Dean Anthony Davies died on January 17 in Ardmaine nursing home in Newry and to compound the family grief, his one remaining brother, Terry, died a few days later.

The Armagh-born cleric, much loved by the people of Down, was buried in Ballymaghery graveyard, a kick of a ball from the Clonduff GAA grounds where he enjoyed many pleasant evenings.

Séamas McAleenan

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