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A remarkable life in sport and medicine

By Orla Loftus Moran - 17th Mar 2024

Dr Mickey Loftus

Dr Michael (‘Mickey’) Loftus, GP, Coroner, and former President of the GAA (1985-1987) passed away almost a year ago, on 22 April 2023, aged 93 years. His death closed the book on a remarkable life, which would be easy to consider through the prism of his sporting achievements and lifelong association with the GAA, but it was so much more than that.

Background

Michael Joseph Loftus was born on 9 August 1929 in Kiltoom, Co Roscommon. His father, Martin, a Garda Sergeant was stationed there at that time. The family subsequently moved to Elphin where his mother Mary, tragically died in 1937 following the birth of his twin sisters, both of whom also died in infancy. Following her death Dr Loftus together with his remaining six siblings moved to their father’s birthplace, Crossmolina, to be cared for by their aunt, Peg. His father remained in the barracks at Elphin and later at Geevagh, Co Sligo, where he remarried and had six more children.

Cumann Lúthchleas Gael

At the time of his death, Dr Loftus was the last remaining survivor of the 1951 Mayo All-Ireland Senior Football winning squad. He also played at minor level for Mayo and later featured on the county junior football team, winning All-Ireland medals in 1950 and 1957 when he was team captain. During his time as a medical student in University College Galway he won three Sigerson Cup medals (1949, 1950, and 1954). He played 19 seasons with his beloved Crossmolina Deel Rovers and when his playing career ended due to knee injury in 1963, he embarked on a distinguished inter-county refereeing career. This included taking charge of All-Ireland football finals in 1965 and 1968.


Kerry captain Páidi Ó Sé lifts the Sam Maguire Cup in the company of Dr Loftus, then President of the GAA, after the Kerry vs Dublin 1985 All-Ireland football final
Picture credit: Ray Mc Manus/SPORTSFILE

His journey as an administrator began in 1964 as Chairperson of Crossmolina Deel Rovers. Along the way he gave service at all levels of the Association, culminating with his election as Uachtarán CLG in 1985. The focus of his tenure as Uachtarán was to support and strengthen connections with grassroots, clubs, and members. He travelled the length and breadth of Ireland visiting clubs no matter how small or large, offering respect and encouragement to their voluntary work by his presence. A concrete testament to his legacy is Croke Park, the magnificent state-of-the-art stadium and home to GAA headquarters. During his presidency, Dr Loftus worked with then Director-General of the GAA, Liam Mulvihill, and sowed the seeds for its transformation, sparking the initial impetus and groundwork for the stadium we enjoy today.

An Dochtúir

Dr Loftus commenced his studies as a medical student in 1948 at University College Galway. Initially shy and intimidated by the city and university life, he found his confidence through involvement in Gaelic games. He was inspired by the enthusiasm of Prof Eoin McKenna (father of actress Siobhán), then Chairperson of the club. The lifelong friendships he forged among his classmates and Sigerson friends alike, were something he treasured. Following his graduation in 1954, he worked in Manorhamilton, Castlebar and Galway University Hospitals. In 1957, he was asked to cover a short-term GP locum position in Crossmolina for two weeks following the departure of the previous GP, Dr Michael Keogh, a native of Wexford. Consequently, on 1 October 1957, he commenced his ‘temporary’ career as a GP, a role that lasted for 60 years until 2017.


Dr Loftus’ work as a GP began as the specialty was in its infancy

Dr Loftus’ work as a GP began as the specialty was in its infancy. At this time reliable mobile communications, equipment, diagnostics, and medicines were not available. Infectious diseases, such as measles, tuberculosis, and whooping cough were prevalent and especially feared. House-calls were the norm, as often patients did not have transport. Rural roads were of poor quality, surfaces often only made of sand or dirt, and on occasion, he was required to cross fields and streams to reach a patient. Together with the local midwife he delivered hundreds of babies at home, as was the custom at that time. The geographical area of north Mayo, which he covered, extended from Crossmolina to Belmullet, and occasionally even into the ocean if he was called to attend to injured or sick crewmen on ships and trawlers off the coast.


Dr Loftus receiving his Honorary Fellowship at a RCPI conferring ceremony in 2009

Times were hard. Many of those he cared for lived in poverty, which led to adverse health effects as well as higher mortality and lower life expectancy for many. Despite the complexity of the issues he faced, the poor resources and relentless workload, he was always upbeat and reiterated often that he considered it a privilege to practice medicine. Dr Loftus cared deeply for his patients and community, spending 60 years serving his patients with grace and his front door was never locked. He chose a faithful companion to share the load and responsibilities when he married his childhood sweetheart Edith (Edie) Munnelly in 1956. Her supportive presence made everything possible for him in his role as GP and beyond. They were inseparable in life and just 11 weeks after his death Edie joined her beloved Mickey in heaven on 7 July 2023.

Coroner

As Coroner for north Mayo (1970-2003), he called attention to the violence, death, and anguish he witnessed resulting from the abuse of alcohol.

He became outspoken in his opposition to policies favouring the alcohol industry and particularly the promotion of alcohol through sport. His views and stance were uncompromising, controversial, and courageous at the time, often bringing him into conflict with many of his peers in the GAA. He protested the Association’s decision to accept Guinness’s sponsorship of the All-Ireland Hurling Championship during the 1990s by not attending All-Ireland hurling finals. He did so with a heavy heart, but was steadfast in his position.

Healthy ageing

Dr Loftus was a committed advocate for older persons. In his work as a GP, he visited his older housebound patients monthly and he practised preventive and holistic care before these concepts became mainstream. He nurtured therapeutic relationships and better understanding of his patients in their homes. In a national capacity, his work as Chairperson of the National Council on Ageing and Older People created many positive benefits for older people in Ireland regarding care provision, quality-of-life and health promotion. Dr Loftus was also a co-ordinator for the GAA Social Initiative, established by President Mary McAleese to engage with older men living in isolation and provide opportunities to revive their social lives. An enthusiast for fitness for all ages, he was instrumental in establishing the Gaelic Masters Association, launching competitive inter-county Gaelic football for over-40s whose perpetual trophy, the Mick Loftus Cup, was named in his honour. Always a man to lead by example, he took up running in his 50s. Dr Loftus went on to compete for Ireland in the World Senior Games in St George, Utah, US, and won four medals in the 75-to-79 age category in 2006.

Civic engagement

Dr Loftus was a lifelong campaigner for his local community seeking investment, jobs, and facilities through his work with the community council. Over the years he was a key figure in fundraising for many charitable organisations including the Rehabilitation Institute. With colleagues, Dr Loftus set up the Green and Red Trust, a fund to help players who have fallen on hard times.


At the time of his death, Dr Loftus was the last remaining survivor of the 1951 Mayo All-Ireland senior football winning squad

Recognition

Dr Loftus was awarded Mayo Man of the Year in 1983. During 2002, he was the recipient of a prestigious Sport and Wellbeing Award by the Olympic Council of Ireland. In recognition of his contributions to sport, health, community, and civic life, Dr Loftus was awarded an honorary fellowship of the Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine at the RCSI in 2006. In 2009, he was made an  Honorary Fellow of the RCPI and, in 2015, he was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Law from the University of Galway. His advocacy for healthy ageing and work with the National Council on Ageing and Older People was acknowledged in 2010 when he was the recipient of an All-Ireland Inspirational Life award.

But Dr Loftus was not a man for accolades. He was invariably uncomfortable with the limelight, and he remained always humble and grateful. He saw each step along the way of life as an opportunity to grow, make a difference, connect with people, and live a full and interesting life. Dr Loftus will be remembered fondly as a noble doctor, a man of gentle humility, but also steely determination. He was a team player with an innate ability to motivate and bring people together, a man of principle and integrity, never afraid to make the big call on and off the pitch. May he rest in peace.

Orla Loftus Moran is the daughter of Dr Mickey Loftus. She works as an Advanced Nurse Practitioner in general practice (Knock Medical Centre).

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