Distinguished solicitor who was also a celebrated Armagh footballer

John McKnight obituary: born: August 10th, 1932; died July 9th, 2017

John McKnight (centre)  for Armagh in the 1953 All-Ireland senior football final against Kerry in Croke Park

John McKnight (centre) for Armagh in the 1953 All-Ireland senior football final against Kerry in Croke Park

 

John McKnight, who has died at the age of 84, was a distinguished solicitor who acted for the GAA for many years and was also a celebrated Armagh footballer both at minor and senior level.

He played cornerback with Armagh in the 1953 All Ireland final against Kerry, a game the Kingdom won by four points. Despite scoring an early goal and leading by two points after 40 minutes, Armagh missed a penalty and the Kingdom were victorious, going on to win three All Irelands in-a-row.

Born in Killeavy, Armagh, the GAA became an important part of his life from the time he could kick a football. One of the strongest childhood memories of his sister, Mary, at which she still chuckles quietly, is seeing “him take the head off my doll and using it as a football.” Wife of Down All Ireland medal winner Kevin O’ Neill, she described her late brother as “a role model in every way” and is immensely proud of the fact that when their father died at an early age, he helped his older brother Michael fill the breech.

Paying tribute to him, Justin McNulty MLA, a member of the only Armagh team to win the All Ireland final (in 2003 they beat Kerry by one point) said he had looked up to him as a boy and still regarded him as a hero. An excellent footballer from an early age, McKnight won a coveted All Ireland medal as a minor with Armagh in 1949, afterwards joining the senior county team where he continued to excel.

Legal practice

The GAA was to assume an even greater importance in the life of the young solicitor who up to his decision to move to Dublin had practised in Belturbet and other towns. Together with fellow UCD law graduate Gerry Charlton from Fermanagh, he formed the legal practice of Reddy, Charlton and McKnight in 1964. Between them they established one of Ireland’s leading litigation firms. Charlton had starred in the famous court case involving the collapse of the Shanahan Stamp Auctioneering company. McKnight later brought an important business portfolio to the practice when he was appointed solicitor to the GAA.

In a homily, Fr James, his younger brother, who celebrated the Requiem Mass at Howth, paid tribute to “a life of service” to family, profession, and to the county of Armagh. Recalling an era before the days of TV punditry, he told how much his brother enjoyed holding post-match analysis sessions with people from all over Ireland on Jones’s Road after big games at Croke Park with people from all over the country joining in.

‘Dublin Five’

Among the mourners were the four remaining members of a group known as “The Dublin Five” – Danny Kelly, Brendan Donaghy, Jimmy Whan and Kevin Halfpenny. All living in Dublin, at one stage or another they had worn the Armagh jersey and met at every opportunity to reminisce and renew old friendships.

From Howth the funeral cortege moved to Co Galway where his remains rested overnight in the Star of the Sea church at Claddagduff. They were waiting for the right tide to enable the hearse, family and friends drive across the sand to Omey Island when the water was low enough. He was buried on Omey, just off the Connemara coast, where his wife, Ita, was born and where they had spent many happy family holidays together.

He is survived by his wife, Ita, sons Paul, Johnny, Fergal and James, daughters Catherine, Mairéad, Deirdre, Brona and Orla, sisters Bridie and Mary, and brothers James and Felix.