FEW people in the city have done as much to help children than the legendary Con Downey who has worked tirelessly for the underprivileged and less well-off in our society than most,
He was at the awards night in the Fr McGrath Centre on Friday night to watch some of his former students received awards. Little did he know that an award for a lifetime of service awaited him.
It was left to Young Irish Film Makers pioneer, Mike Kelly to read the citation to the many who ran minibuses to junior soccer matches with a four door saloon car. “His tireless work and support for children and less well off families spans many decades and honours, including a Kilkenny Person of the Year award. Con’s involvement is setting up, supporting and running community and children’s programmes are so numerous over his lifetime that it is not possible to list all of them tonight, but we would like to mention some of the most significant for families and children in Kilkenny, especially our community,” Mike Kelly said.
If any one person can be credited with being the founder of Schoolboys Soccer in Kilkenny, it has to be Con Downey. I first met him in 1966 when he organised the first soccer Mini World Cup out in James’s Park, and I fondly remember running teams with him over many years. I also remember him as the initiator of an under 8’s 15 man soccer team, as he could never see a little kid not getting a game. The fact that you might only have 11 players and 2 subs didn’t seem to matter to Con because he would loan you his kids to play on your side! The sight of two teams of tiny children all following the one ball and mostly kicking each other was a sight to behold. Con was probably the owner of the first minibus in Kilkenny, as his little Morris Minor used to carry Con, a full team and subs to all the matches. Over the years many thousands of children and young people have enjoyed being part of a soccer team because Con Downey decided to stage a Mini World Cup in 1966!
“Our gratitude to Con from this community is not just for his many kindnesses to individual children and families, or for the many things he did for families that we will never know about. Tonight our gratitude is for his involvement and the setting up of community initiatives such as The Sunday Night Bingo which ran for nearly 20 years, and was the main fundraiser for the Parish Welfare Committee, a committee Con had helped set up. It raised many thousands of pounds over that time to support many families struggling to raise children in much harder times in Ireland.
He and his late wife Gertie ran The Kilkenny Toy Bank for decades. Again, thousands of children over those years had big smiles on their faces on Christmas morning thanks to the tons of toys that Con and Gertie Downey collected to make sure that no child in Kilkenny need go without a proper childhood experience at Christmas time, irrespective of their financial position.
In 1991 he helped establish the first Butts Festival which became the first step in the long journey to the founding of the family resource centre that is the Fr McGrath Centre. “This award from us tonight is for one of the most important community initiatives he was involved with in this centre, the children’s education and youth development programme. Con’s role is helping us get this programme off the ground and, specifically his legendary ‘haunting’ of volunteers to give up an hour of their time to act as tutors was critical to the success of this project,” Mr Kelly said. The service now has 140 children involved in homework, catch-up and grind programmes. Every year more than 200 volunteer tutors support efforts to ensure that children in the area are given the same chance as every other child to stay in school and achieve success in their careers and in their life. “Con Downey is truly a most worthy nominee for our Lifetime Achievement Award for Services to Children,” Mike Kelly said.