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Obituary: Danny Murphy - Peace-builder who helped to modernise GAA and honoured slain police officer

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Ulster GAA is mourning the loss of former provincial secretary Dr Danny Murphy, who died on Tuesday night after a prolonged battle with cancer.

A bachelor, he is survived by brothers Owen, Seamus and John, and sisters Monica and Bernie. The sheer breadth of the tributes paid to him yesterday spoke of a man who, in giving his life to the service of the GAA, proved a peace-builder of the highest integrity.

The First and Deputy First Ministers released a joint statement, noting they had hosted a reception for Mr Murphy in Stormont Castle in June "to acknowledge his contribution to sport and community relations".

Political parties of all shades paid tributes, and his death was noted in the House of Commons.

Tributes were paid by Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin of the PSNI, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and sporting bodies including the Irish Football Association and Ulster Rugby.

Throughout his life Mr Murphy built up a number of unlikely alliances, including with leading loyalist Jackie McDonald, whom he brought to an All-Ireland hurling semi-final.

Baroness Angela Smith, who clashed strongly with Mr Murphy over funding for GAA stadia in Ulster, became a close friend and sent him a Christmas card each year.

After a playing career as a Gaelic football goalkeeper with Burren, and hurling for Rostrevor and Warrenpoint, he become involved in administration, working his way through several roles, often held concurrently.

He remained involved in the playing side of the game as a selector with his cousin, James McCartan senior, who managed the Down team that won the National League in 1983.

Later, Mr Murphy was Down county chairman when they won the All-Ireland in 1991, and when he finished that term he was brought onto the Down management team by Pete McGrath as a selector and they duly won the All-Ireland title in 1994.

He stood down from his role in August of this year and intended to mark his retirement by enjoying the country pursuits of shooting and fishing.

However, his illness was so advanced that he got precious little time.

Mr Murphy's legacy is one of modernising the GAA in Ulster, a man who performed an extremely difficult task politically, but who won people over with a common touch, his unyielding devotion to what was right and the highest levels of integrity.

It was Murphy who argued for the removal of Rule 21, which banned members of the British security forces from membership of the GAA, before Sinn Fein, the Catholic Church, and the wider GAA community.

His ability to connect with people is best illustrated with two examples. When hurls were banned in the Maze Prison, he visited the prison governor and, hearing a faint commentary on a cricket match on the radio, engaged the governor with a couple of hours of chat on the finer points of cricket, after which the ban on hurls was lifted.

The other concerns the first DUP minister to visit a GAA match, when Edwin Poots attended a Dr McKenna Cup match in January 2008. He and Mr Murphy bonded over their shared work on family farms.

In his spare time, he was a constitutional scholar who enjoyed legal debates with Arlene Foster. A huge admirer of Martin Luther King, he insisted, "The time is always right to do what is right".

One of those examples came after the murder of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr, from Beragh in Tyrone. The next day, the former Gaelic footballer was granted a minute's silence prior to Tyrone's National League match against Kildare. Despite fears that it may have been broken, Murphy insisted on it going ahead, and it was impeccably observed.

The funeral mass will take place on Saturday at 12 noon in St Mary's Church, Burren.

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