Brendan Harkin: Tributes paid to one of Tyrone GAA’s most influential administrators

Brendan Harkin
Brendan Harkin was a former Tyrone county secretary, PRO and hurling officer and manager of the senior county hurling team Picture: Oliver McVeigh

The death has occurred of one of Tyrone GAA’s most influential administrators of the last 50 years, Brendan Harkin.

A former county chairman, he was one of only two people to have served two terms in the position.

He was also a former county secretary, PRO and hurling officer, and represented Tyrone at provincial and national level.

Mr Harkin (75) was acknowledged as one of Tyrone’s greatest administrators, immersed from an early age in the values and ideals of the GAA.

He served as secretary of his club, Killyclogher, for an incredible 54 years, taking up the position at just 16 years of age, and was assistant secretary up until the time of his death.

A former manager of the Tyrone senior hurling team, he guided the Red Hands to an All-Ireland Junior title in 1996, and he was a member of the Killyclogher management team when the club won the Tyrone SFC title for the first time in 2003.

A teacher by profession, after graduating from Queen’s University, Mr Harkin joined the staff of Omagh CBS, where he taught History, Politics, Latin, Irish and PE.

In a tribute, Killyclogher St Mary’s GAC described Mr Harkin as a “colossus of a man”.

“What Brendan was to people in our Club and our Parish is nearly indescribable to outsiders. He was our rock, our inspiration, our leader, our everything. We are shaken to our core and to our foundations. To many GAA outsiders, Brendan was ‘Mr Killyclogher’.

Alluding to his dedication to the position of club secretary for more than half a century, the club tribute referenced “a manifestation of total unbroken, unwavering and loyal service to our Club, the likes of which has never and will probably never be seen again.

“It seems unbelievable now that the elders of a community would place a 16-year-old boy in such a position of leadership. Clearly, his qualities, skills and potential were evident from an early age.

“Brendan’s achievements in GAA administration went on to be unrivalled and unparallelled in terms of length, breadth and quality of service.

“At county level, he was club delegate, Assistant Secretary of the League Board, Chairman of the Youth Board, Chairman of the Hurling Board, County Annual Editor, PRO, County Secretary, County Chairman (two terms) and ultimately Honorary County President.

“He was the Tyrone delegate on Comhairle Uladh at Provincial level. At National level, he was both the Tyrone and the Ulster delegate on Ard-Chomhairle.

“Only two people have ever served as Tyrone Chairperson for two terms. What is more remarkable, perhaps, is that Brendan was very young when he first took this position.

Brendan Harkin (back row, third from right) with other former Tyrone GAA chairmen

Picture: Oliver McVeigh
Brendan Harkin (back row, third from right) with other former Tyrone GAA chairmen Picture: Oliver McVeigh

“His first term coincided with a period of great political strife that was dominated by the Hunger Strikes; his second term occurred during a period of internal County strife.

“His masterful stewardship guided the Association in Tyrone through dangerous, tough, and testing times where his calming influence was vitally important.

“A prominent national GAA administrator told the writer that Brendan was a ‘shoo-in’ for becoming Tyrone’s first GAA President – his only limitation being his modesty. Perhaps he declined to run for such a lofty position at the time as it could have taken him too far away from his beloved club.

“It is undeniable that throughout Brendan’s time as a county, provincial and national GAA administrator, he actively and passionately maintained his involvement in all aspects of our Club as player, administrator, manager, Irish teacher, fundraiser, and Scór coach amongst many other roles.

His presence on the sideline was a constant. While teams came and went, Brendan was always there. Loved by young and old equally.”

He is survived by his wife Clare, children Gráinne, Sinéad, Kerry and Kevin, grandchildren and wider family members.