Peter Quinn: Being GAA President during Ulster’s golden period

By Katrina Brennan

MARCH, 1991 and Teemore Shamrocks clubman Peter Quinn is elected GAA President. In those four special years he had the great honour of presenting the Sam Maguire to the ‘91 All Ireland winning Down team, the ‘92 Donegal team and ‘93 Derry team. A period of time in Ulster football that we have not seen the like of since and a Presidency, that many would argue, has not been replicated with such distinction either.

Peter Quinn, how will you be remembered?

“I have no great ambitions to be remembered at all,” he says.  “Family, I hope will remember me for a while. I suppose around Teemore I’d like to be remembered as the man who lifted the county Senior Championship cup for the first time after 34 years and since that, I suppose I’m proud of my contribution towards the development of Croke Park, but I don’t accept this view that I hear every so often, that ‘you’re the man who built Croke Park’. I didn’t build Croke Park, the GAA built Croke Park, I just managed the process for most of it.”

Road to Croke Park

It’s a modest summation of his work at GAA headquarters. His ‘Fermanagh ignorance’ as he describes it, helped deliver a world class stadium in the heart of north Dublin. Whilst he admits that it’s certainly a pleasing aspect of his legacy, like anyone that has ever built anything, hindsight is a great thing.

“I know that every time Croke Park comes up I realise that I’m biased about it, I’m not the most neutral person to comment on it.

“I take a bit of pride in it. If I was doing it today, there are minor things that I would have changed. You walk into it and you think, ‘Christ, why wasn’t that done differently’ but there’s nothing I would change dramatically.

“We got the Cusack Stand built during my time there. Then, I wasn’t involved in the southern end. Joe McDonagh, Lord have mercy on him, he didn’t ask me to get involved and then when Sean McCague came in he asked me would I manage the final two stages which was the Hogan Stand and the northern end and I suppose I put a huge effort in to that second phase. I put a fair bit of effort into the first phase but I put a huge effort into the Hogan Stand and the northern end.

Hill 16

“I have great respect for Hill 16 and its relationship to events of 100 years back and more and I didn’t want to see it carved up. While that capacity at the northern end is much smaller, it would have been smaller still had I not insisted on making changes to the proposal.

“I was lucky in the sense that I had no right to be involved in the Hogan Stand side and the northern end but Sean McCague became President and said to me, ‘Peter would you do me a favour and manage the completion of the stadium for me? I want to get it completed in my term of office and I need someone with the skills to do it,’ and I said ‘right’, and I went back and did it within budget. We actually didn’t have a penny of borrowing when we opened it.

“If I had gone with the original plans we would have had a stadium for mid-70 thousand and I was insistent that we get it over 80 thousand. We finished up with a stadium with the capacity of over 83 thousand and I can’t claim that all of that was down to me, but if the original design that we were presented with had been the design that was implemented, we’d have had a smaller stadium but I just decided that I wasn’t accepting what was proposed.

“If I was an outsider, I would probably say I bullied the changes through,” he laughs, “but in my opinion the changes certainly added to the capacity and they added to the appearance of the stadium as well.”

Becoming President

The Teemore man has always demonstrated a great determination and drive to be the best he could be and do the best he could do, but sometimes the opportunities on his path to becoming president just befell him, more so than he went looking for them.

“I never had any ambition to be the GAA President. I got nominated to run as Fermanagh’s representative on the Ulster Council. I was secretary of the club at the time and I didn’t put my name forward.

“The club nominations came out in the ‘Herald’ and my name was there for the Ulster Council. Mickey Brewster and John Vesey, Lord have mercy on them, were the two delegates at that time.

“It never occurred to me that anyone would oppose them, but my name was there as a third candidate and I said to Sean Martin, ‘I’ll pull my name out’ and he said, ‘you’ll do no such thing, you’ve been nominated, I don’t know who has nominated you because I didn’t nominate you, but you’ve been nominated and stand. Worse things can happen than if you finish third of three’,” recalls Peter.

“I said, ‘right’ and first vote, John Vesey topped the poll and I was second and Mickey Brewster was third and obviously third was eliminated which meant that the other two were automatically elected. I was absolutely flabbergasted to be honest.”

Journey to the top

It turned out that Irvinestown was the club that had nominated Peter and so his journey to the top of the GAA hierarchy tree begun.

“I did my three years at Ulster Council and the end of my three years coincided with the nominations for a new President to succeed John Dowling. I was nominated but I knew I was going to be nominated because I had been nominated for the previous one, three years earlier. So I stood and I won it handily enough to be honest.”

That day, Peter Quinn became the first Fermanagh man to hold the office and since that no one from the six counties has been GAA President. He recalls his mother Mary’s reaction when she heard the news.

“Sure my mother, something like that happens and she’d be like, ‘don’t be making an eejit of yourself.

“That was her modus operandi, she was very keen on nobody getting beyond their station. Now, she was probably very proud at the same time but she wouldn’t ever say it, you know.”

Neither his mother or father shared his great love for Gaelic games though.

“They had absolutely no interest in it whatsoever,” says Peter. “If we were playing in a big match my father would come. The football field was across the road from our house. We literally had a field between the road and the football field.

“My mother could watch the football matches from the upstairs window. She couldn’t see the full length of the field but she could see half the field and more and she’d be fit to tell me when I had missed frees and stuff and she wasn’t a bit slow about telling me!” he laughs.

Sadly, in 1967 Peter’s father Hugh, passed away from his 15th heart attack. Peter remembers the day well.

“I was a student at Queen’s. I had qualified as an accountant earlier that year and I went back to do a Masters degree and he died the week before Christmas. When I was leaving to go back to Belfast on that Sunday evening, he was leaving to go to the removal of a former Teemore player. Earlier that day we had been both been carrying the remains of a first cousin of his. But it was his 15th or 16th heart attack, he could have died much sooner, if you know what I mean. I think I was eight when he had his first heart attack.”

The glory years

His father never got to see his son lead the GAA with such distinction and in a remarkable twist of faith, Peter, a proud Ulster Gael, took over the Presidency between 1991-94.

“When I was president of the Ulster Council, the one thing that I had wanted to see was an Ulster team winning the All-Ireland. When Down won it, I thought ‘well at least I’ve had the opportunity to present it to one Ulster team’ and the next two years, there came two more,” he laughs.

“But I made no contribution to that, I just presented the cup to whichever captain came up at the end of the All-Ireland final but I became very friendly with those teams and had huge respect for those players and those teams.

“I’d have to say, and it mightn’t go down too well nationally, I was delighted to see three different Ulster teams win the All-Ireland and four successive All-Ireland’s coming to Ulster.”

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