Michael Loftus obituary: The only Mayo man to have been GAA president

He had an innate ability to understand people and respond appropriately to their grief, pain or joy

Born: August 9th, 1929

Died: April 22nd, 2023

Dr Michael (Mickey) Loftus, a past president of the GAA, has died aged 93. Loftus, a medical doctor and community leader, was more widely known for his decades-long involvement in the GAA as a player, referee and administrator before serving as GAA president from 1985-1988 – the only Mayo man to have this role.

The Irish Times GAA correspondent, Seán Moran, said that his death severs the last living link with the great and by now mythical Mayo teams of the early 1950s who won back-to-back All Irelands in 1950 and 1951. Loftus was a substitute on the Mayo senior football team that won the last All-Ireland finals for Mayo in 1951, although he didn’t get to play on the day.


His talent in football was obvious from an early age. He played in the minor final of 1947 when Mayo was defeated by Tyrone and went on to win junior All-Irelands in 1950 and 1957. While studying at University College Galway, he won three Sigerson Cup medals in 1948, 1950 and 1954. When his playing career ended due to injury, he was a distinguished inter-county referee, taking charge of All-Ireland football finals in 1965 and 1968.

His years as chairman of the Connacht Council and also of the GAA committee – established to plan events for the 100 year celebrations in 1984 – led to him being elected president of the association. During his presidency, he travelled to Australia for the first international rules series played there.

Michael, one of eight children born to Mary and Martin Loftus in Kiltoom, Co Roscommon, he moved to Crossmolina in 1939 with his siblings to be looked after by their aunt, Peg, in his grandparents’ home. His mother died giving birth to his twin sisters (both of whom also died in infancy). His father, a sergeant in the relatively new An Garda Síochána, remained in the barracks at Elphin and later at Geevagh, Co Sligo. He remarried and had six more children with his wife, Mai.

Following school in St Muredach’s College, Ballina, Loftus studied medicine at University College Galway. During his time as a third-level student, he made lifelong friends playing football.

He graduated in 1954 after which he worked in hospitals in Galway, Mayo and Sligo before getting a locum position in Crossmolina. In 1956 he married his childhood sweetheart, Edie Munnelly, and the couple settled in the town. For the next 60 years Dr Loftus worked as a GP for Crossmolina and its hinterland as their four children grew up. During that time, he was medical officer for Bord na Móna workers, various football teams and, for 33 years, coroner for north Mayo.

Orla Loftus said her father viewed house calls as a great opportunity to get to know patients and their families, whether that was delivering babies or checking in on elderly patients.

“He never sought accolades for what he did,” she said. “He had an innate ability to understand people and respond appropriately to their grief, pain or joy and put them at their ease.”

He took up running in his 50s, going on to compete for Ireland in the World Senior Games in St George, Utah: he won four medals in the 75-79 age category in 2006

A great believer in the importance of exercise for all ages, he promoted the Gaelic Masters Association, the competitive inter-county Gaelic football for over-40s whose perpetual trophy, the Mick Loftus Cup, was named in his honour. He took up running in his 50s, going on to compete for Ireland in the World Senior Games in St George, Utah: he won four medals in the 75-79 age category in 2006. That year he received honorary fellowship of the Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In 2009 he received honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians and, in 2015, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of law at UCG (now University of Galway).

Dr Loftus, who was deeply religious, was also a lifelong member of the Pioneer Association of Ireland. He was outspoken in his views – with many published letters in The Irish Times – about the damage caused by the excessive consumption of alcohol, which his work as a coroner alerted him to. Although not anti-alcohol per se, he campaigned against drinks companies’ sponsorship of sports, refusing to go to matches in Croke Park when Guinness was the main sponsor of the All-Ireland hurling championships from 1995 to 2012.

He was very active in his local community, in both fundraising activities for the GAA and other charities. He was a key figure in the building of St Tiernan’s Park, the GAA grounds that opened in 1968 and remains the home of Deel Rovers GAA club. With colleagues, he set up the Green and Red Trust, a fund to help players who have fallen on hard times. And as a strong promoter of the rights of senior citizens, he was chairman of the National Council for the Elderly.

Passionate about his hometown and county, Dr Loftus won Mayo man of the year in 1983. And in 2010 he was one of the winners of the All-Ireland Inspirational Life awards, an all-island initiative that recognises the contribution of older people to society.

Dr Michael (Mickey) Loftus is survived by his wife, Edie; his children, Michael, Orla, Patrick and Joe; his 10 grandchildren; and his siblings, Declan, Finian, Colm, Shane, Liam and Siobhán. He was predeceased by his brothers Benny, Marty, Kevin and Dan; sister Ettie; and infant twin sisters, Gertrude and Carmel.