Kerry footballer who had impact on education, sport and culture

Bobby Buckley: 1936-2013


Bobby Buckley was a well-known Kerry footballer in the 1950s who made a major impact in education, sport and cultural circles in Kerry, Cork and nationally during the course of a career spanning four decades. He was a sociable and devoted family man who reared nine children.

He was born into a modest but progressive farm in Coolaclarig, Listowel to Daniel and Hannah Buckley, the third of five siblings.

His mother was a guiding influence on him giving him drive and a belief that with education he could be whatever he wanted to be.

Buckley was educated in Clounmacon national school, St Ita’s College, Tarbert and University College Cork where he qualified as a rural science teacher in 1953. From an early age, after Clounmacon won the North Kerry Championship, Gaelic football was important to him. He won a Sigerson Cup with UCC in Belfast in 1953 and this opened up the opportunity to play for Kerry. He played midfield and halfback between 1953 and 1957, winning All-Ireland and National League medals. He also played in county championship finals for Kenmare and St Brendan’s.

Football enabled him to meet the match of his life. During a Kerry collective training session, he met Eileen O’Donoghue of the Park Place Hotel, Killarney, and subsequently they got married in 1957 taking up residence in the beautiful seaside village of Ballyheigue in north Kerry.

Buckley’s career was also taking off and after spending three enjoyable years as a rural science teacher in Kenmare, he was appointed school principal of Causeway Vocational School.

In 1966 he was appointed Kerry county development officer with the role targeting foreign investment into Kerry. During the period the Pretty Polly Hosiery factory was secured for Killarney, providing employment for more than 800 people at its peak.

Buckley was appointed chief executive of Tralee Vocational Education Committee during 1967 and established the Tralee Technical College in Clash, the forerunner of the Tralee Institute of Technology. During the same period Buckley and his friend, another Kerry footballer, Jim Brosnan, had a vision of how sport could benefit the broader communities. After seeing an innovative sports and recreational facility in Newark in the US, the Buckley team started persuading local Tralee workers in Denny’s and the Kerryman to make a contribution from their weekly wage. They then coaxed the government to provide the bulk of the funds to establish the Tralee Sports Complex.

In 1973, Buckley was appointed chief executive of Cork VEC. This was a significant new challenge, with the management of 21 schools and colleges and of more than 8,200 students. During the following 23 years, up to his retirement in 1996, Buckley pursued his vision of progressive education with innovation, inclusion, sport, recreation and making schools and colleges under the VEC relevant to the needs of communities and local enterprises.

In addition to his role in education, Buckley was privileged to be nominated to a number of national bodies including the National Sports Council, the UCC Adult Education Committee and Thomond College board of governors.

He retained a deep affection for the Irish language and rural culture all his life.

He is survived by his wife Eileen, children Donal, Cathryn, Ann, Paddy, Susan, Frances, Niamh, Roma, Eileen, his siblings Patsy, Danny and Sally and many grandchildren.