Burns to fulfil his destiny

By Niall McCoy

SHORTLY after 4.30pm on Saturday at the Canal Court Hotel in Newry, Jarlath Burns will take office of the most prestigious role in the GAA as he replaces Larry McCarthy as Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael.

It will be the culmination of decades of work in the association, not without its speed bumps, and he will become one of the most high profile officers to ever take the position.

Burns’ leadership qualities have never been in question. A former principal of St Paul’s, Bessbrook, he addressed some of the more difficult topics of debate, most notably the integration of the Unionist population.

A decade ago, the keen Gaeilgeoir and nationalist said he wouldn’t be against the removal of the Irish tricolour and national anthem at GAA games if it meant Protestants felt more welcoming. He faced severe criticism in many quarters for those remarks, and privately he probably felt it was a misstep, but it points to a man who will not be a passive President.

Burns was a leader on the pitch too, helping to end Armagh’s long wait for the Anglo Celt as they trashed Down in the 1999 final. The footage of the captain lifting the cup, shaking his head and wondering was it actually real is iconic in Orchard County history. Three years later, he was in the BBC pundits’ box for the county’s All-Ireland triumph, ripping off his microphone to go join the celebrations live on air.

He will become the third Armagh President after Pádraig MacNamee (1938) and Alf Murray (1964). Although MacNamee is more noted as an Antrim man, he was born and raised in Dromintee and, like Burns, had a huge interest in the Irish language, interviewing native speakers in the area to chronicle their stories while still at Dromintee primary school. Recently, his son Jarly Óg Burns spent time teaching and coaching children from the local club at that very same school, even if a new building has since replaced the one MacNamee studied in.

And it’s that word ‘club’ that will resonate with Burns the most when he makes the short trip from Silverbridge to Newry this weekend, where Congress will start on Friday.

A fiercely proud Irish, Ulster and Armagh man, his heart ultimately lies in the grounds of Peter Keeley Park.

As Burns’ term starts and his calendar fills up, you can be assured of one thing – he will not be scaling back on his volunteer commitments to the ‘Bridge. For Burns, that’s where he was moulded. For Silverbridge and the Burns family however, Saturday is just reward for a man who has dedicated his life to the GAA.

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW