Brother Laurence (Larry) Ennis 1933-2021

December 17, 2021

Brother Laurence (Larry) Ennis 1933-2021

The Committee of Ulster Schools GAA are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Brother Larry Ennis, our distinguished former Chairperson of 25 years, serving from 1983 until 2008. Bro Ennis left a lasting impression in every school and community across Ulster and beyond which were graced by his presence, underlined by his steadfast passion for all things Gaelic games. His vocation brought him to Omagh CBS, Glen Road CBS and St Mary’s CBS in Belfast, Armagh CBS later to become St Patrick’s Armagh, and back to Omagh after his ‘retirement’. While we are all much sadder for his passing, we are thankful for his support and guidance over many many years.

Go raibh suaimhneas síoraí aige.

Laurence Ennis, a native of Coralstown, Co Westmeath, was born in May 1933. He attended the local primary school until the age of fourteen and then moved to the Christian Brother’s Secondary School in Mullingar where he quickly distinguished himself as a formidable centre half back on both the hurling and football teams. Larry Ennis joined the Christian Brothers in 1948, and having completed his Inter and Leaving Cert examinations, moving to Queen’s University Belfast in 1953 to take a degree in Maths and History. Having completed his degree in 1956, he spent the next year at St Joseph’s Training College, Trench House completing his teaching qualifications.

Brother Ennis started his teaching career in Omagh in 1957, and spent the next ten years there in the Christian Brothers Primary School teaching the 11+ class. Despite his 11+ class size frequently exceeding 50 students, he managed to produce phenomenal pass rates – 51 passes in a class of 52 students in 1963, followed by 53 out of 55 in 1964! This decade spent in Omagh is also distinguished by another feature of Brother Ennis’ contribution in every location where he was sent to teach, his total immersion in coaching Gaelic Games, not only in the schools but in the local communities.

During that sojourn in Omagh CBS, he coached the primary school to an Ulster title (Rice Cup), and also assisted with coaching teams in the secondary school. In those years, he worked with the successful McMahon and D’Alton Cup teams, and would often recall his very first outing with a CBS team in 1957 – an away fixture in Letterkenny, when the team travelled by train to Strabane on the Great Northern Railway, and then caught a connection to Letterkenny on the Donegal Railway.

Brother Ennis’ exploits on the football field in Omagh were not confined to coaching. Despite the Religious Orders being forbidden to play representative football, he regularly lined out for Omagh St Enda’s, albeit under the alias of ‘Sean Mulryan’, and helped St Enda’s to win the Tyrone Senior Football Championship in 1963.

In 1967 he was transferred to Glen Road CBS (now All Saints College) in Belfast to teach mathematics. Once again he became involved locally, and won an Antrim Junior Football Championship medal in 1970 with St. Teresa’s. His energy and innovative inclinations were evident in his management of the Antrim Vocational Schools Hurling team, which he entered for the Leinster Championship in 1971. That team went on to beat Laois, Wexford and Kilkenny on its way to the Leinster Final, in which they beat Offaly, before going on to defeat Tipperary in the All-Ireland Final. As fate would have it, captain of that team was one Sean McGourty, current Treasurer of Ulster Schools GAA.

Bro Ennis was transferred to Dublin in 1971, but was back in Belfast in 1978 with an immediate impact. He managed Naomh Treasa to the Antrim Senior Football Championship success in 1979 and went on to reach another four Finals under his reign. He served as Antrim GAA Senior Football Manager from 1979 until 1981, in which time Antrim won their most recent Dr McKenna Cup title, beating Tyrone, Down and Armagh in the process. At this stage he was also the Headteacher in St. Mary’s Belfast.

He became Headteacher in Armagh CBS in 1982, later to merge with St Patrick’s Armagh, and was to spend the next 17 years there. He became involved with the local Pearse Óg‘s club and led them to Senior Championship success in 1985 and 1988. He was a central figure in procuring the lands which now houses the Callenbridge complex. Meanwhile, he managed the Armagh Minor Football team from 1989 until 1997, winning Ulster titles in 1992 and 1994, and narrowly missing out on an All-Ireland title in 1992.

He ‘officially’ retired from teaching in 1999, and returned to CBS Omagh where his teaching career had started 42 years earlier. However, he did not recognise the concept of retirement, either in the teaching or sporting context. He remained inextricably involved in football in the school, and none of the school’s 6 age-group teams ever went anywhere without Larry Ennis on board. He was actively involved in MacRory Cup success in 2005 and in the historic MacRory/Hogan Cup double in 2007, but was equally content in working with non-representative Development Squads within the school.

In the midst of this exhausting schedule of academic responsibilities, school teams, and local clubs and counties, Brother Ennis also made time to serve for 25 years as Ulster Colleges Chairperson from 1983 until 2008. In this capacity he also represented Ulster on the All-Ireland Schools Committee.

In truth, his contribution to the schools in which he has taught, to the thousands of students who have benefitted from his mathematical prowess, to the countless players and all the teams which he has coached at school, club, and county level over the years since 1957 has been incalculable. The writer of any article like this one usually has to resist the temptation to exaggerate; in the case of Brother Ennis, the problem has been to avoid understating his various roles in so many places, and to try to do justice to his truly exceptional career.