Honouring Cardinal Joseph MacRory and Fr. Tom Rafferty

October 13, 2023

As part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating the Centenary of the Danske Bank MacRory Cup, his excellency, Archbishop Eamon Martin, was the guest of Ulster Schools when he carried out the blessing of two plaques on the graves of two of the most influential figures in the early days of the newly formed Ulster Colleges Council in St Patrick’s Cemetery in Armagh. After being welcomed by Ulster Schools Secretary, Seamus Woods, the archbishop, assisted by the Cathedral Administrator, Fr Barry Matthews spoke to the large gathering of the accomplishments of the two men.

Both of those honoured were former pupils of St. Patrick’s College, Armagh. Cardinal Joseph MacRory, born in Ballygawley, was appointed President of St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon, before being made Bishop of Down and Connor. It was during his stay in Belfast that he learned of the growth of Gaelic games in the diocesan seminaries and he provided a cup for ‘competition among secondary schools in Ulster playing Gaelic’. The MacRory Cup, named is his honour was first played for in 1923, with the first name on the trophy, that of his alma mater.

Fr Tom Rafferty, who spent his early years in Pontzpass before joining the Vincentian order a was ordained in 1917. His first post was to the staff of St Patrick’s College, Armagh before being made President in 1929. Despite his onerous duties he still found time to act as Secretary of the Ulster Colleges’ Gaelic League and in setting up the MacRory Cup competition, with Dr MacRory as Patron. On Friday 13th January 1928, at a meeting in the Catholic Club in Irish Street, the newly formed Ulster Colleges Council was formed. In September of that year, Joseph MacRory was installed as Archbishop of Armagh before being created Cardinal in December in Rome. Cardinal MacRory passed away in 1945 while Fr Tom Rafferty died after a short illness in 1953. Both men were buried in the local cemetery just a short distance from Irish \Street where they had set up the Ulster Colleges Council.

Joining Archbishop Martin at the ceremony were pupils from St Patrick’s College, Armagh who contributed to the music during the ceremony. They were accompanied by their Principal, Dominic Clarke and Head of PE Matthew McGleenon. Pupils from St Patrick’s took part in the Prayers of the Faithful, along with Ulster schools Executive member, Tommy Rodgers. The Ulster Council was represented by Secretary, Brian McEvoy while Armagh County Chairman, Paul McCardle was joined by former chairman, Paul Duggan. Roddy Hegarty and Donal McAnallen represented the O’Fiaich Library.

Relatives of Cardinal MacRory and Fr Rafferty were also in attendance. Michael McGirr and son Gerwyn, a native of Ballygawley  represented the family of Cardinal MacRory, while  the Rafferty family were represented by a grand-nephew, former Armagh county star, John, a teacher in St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook, and his mother, Rose.They were joined by  John’s nephew, Joe O’Boyle, himself a teacher in Our Lady’s College, Castleblayney and who is in charge of the College MacRory team, after his successful spell as coach to this year’s Monaghan team.

Ulster Schools were represented by their  President, Pauraic Duffy, while Chairman, Jimmy Smyth thanked all those attending and especially those who had organised the event, namely, Seamus Woods, Treasurer, Sean McGourty as well as Servicing Officer, Carly McClean and  Grace Cunningham.