GAA presidents past and present have paid tribute to the late Jack Boothman, who passed away yesterday morning.
Wicklowman Boothman, who served as GAA President from 1994-1997, was described affectionately by Nickey Brennan as a “larger than life” character while Sean Kelly recalled a warm character with a “great sense of humour”. Liam O’Neill remembers a “genial man” and a “serious administrator” while current president Aogan Ó Fearghail lamented the passing of “a friend” who urged him: “Don’t forget about the clubs.”
Boothman was the first protestant president of the GAA and was club president of Blessington in Wicklow until the time of his death.
He was influential in the abolition of rule 21, which prohibited members of the British security forces from joining the GAA and playing gaelic games.
Rule 21 was abolished at annual congress in 2001, when Seán McCague was GAA president, with Brennan and Kelly both referencing Boothman’s role in this process.
Kelly smiled: “He had a great sense of humour and used to joke about the big mark on his forehead.
“He said he got it from a bullock he was testing for TB one time — he said the bullock came off second best.
“Jack’s wife, Nuala, and my wife, Juliette, are still very close and very good friends.
“Nuala was a wonderful support to him as well and the fact that Jack came from a small county like Wicklow shows the importance of the weaker counties.
“They can make as much progress as the strong counties, which is very important for us, and give them a voice that they might not have otherwise.”
Brennan revealed: “I was with him a few times in the last couple of weeks. Geographically, I was close to him and that was a help. Jack, and I know this term is going to be used often, was a larger than life character, a big man in every sense of the word, but he had a great rapport with people and players.
“From that point of view, he would have been particularly well-known within the playing community of his time.
“While the first cog in the wheel of the Croke Park development was probably John Dowling, Jack, along with Liam Mulvihill, brought it along the way to crystallisation.
“Ultimately, Peter Quinn engineered it over the line but Jack played quite a big part, with Liam, in getting the Croke Park that we know today into the planning area.
“Jack was great company, very much at ease with people from clubs and many clubs around the country will have fond memories of him visiting their places, opening a pitch, dressing-room or clubhouse.
“And given his own personal background, he would have been very strong about the abolition of rule 21. He saw that as important.”
Expanding on that theme, Kelly added: “He was the first Church of Ireland member to become president of the GAA, and that reflected the status in which he was held, and his love and passion for gaelic games was second to none.
“He had great admiration for players and laid the groundwork for a lot of the improvements in player welfare which thankfully have come about since.
“He was very much in support of the abolition of rule 21 and, of course, with his background he was ideally positioned to influence that decision.
“He worked very quietly and effectively, through the Ulster Council in particular, and as a result of that, he laid the seed for the abolition of rule 21 under the presidency of Seán McCague, without any rancour.”
O’Neill added: “I knew him well, we all knew Jack. He was a very genial man but also a very serious administrator.
“He did a huge amount of good for the GAA and had the ability to bring a smile to people’s faces, and leave a gathering smiling. His biggest legacy is that even though we’re sad at his passing, everybody that speaks of him today will remember him fondly and we all have happy memories of him.”
Ó Fearghail commented: “He had great interest in the club and the last conversation I had with him recently he told me ‘don’t forget about the clubs.’ “On behalf of the association as a whole I would like to offer my condolences to his wife Nuala and his extended family and his wide circle of friends.”
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