Davin, Maurice (1842–1927), athlete and first president of the Gaelic Athletic Association, was born 29 June 1842 in Deerpark, Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary, eldest of five children surviving infancy of John Davin, farmer and river haulage contractor, and Bridget Davin (née Walsh) of Carrick-on-Suir. Having received his schooling at William O'Shea's Academy, Castle St., Carrick-on-Suir, on the death of his father (1859) he joined with his mother, a woman of great acumen, to run the family's river haulage business and large mixed farm at Deerpark, rented from the marquess of Ormond. The River Suir provided the focal point for his early sporting activity, and the revival of the Clonmel regatta saw him develop a passion for rowing. From 1868 he raced in boats he built himself, first a two-oared wherry and then a 35-ft (10.67 m) four-oared racing gig, the Cruiskeen Lawn. Always rowing at stroke, he won races in Clonmel, Tramore, Waterford, and Carrick-on-Suir.
He first competed at an athletics meeting in Waterford in 1869 and participated in running, throwing, and jumping events at sports meetings in Tramore, Queen's College, Cork, and the Civil Service club in Dublin over the next two years. Such was his interest that he retired from rowing and at the age of 29 trained exclusively for athletic events using weights constructed into a primitive mini-gymnasium in Deerpark. In 1871 he initiated the practice of throwing the old-style wooden hammer with one hand. Business commitments precluded him from competing in the newly established Irish championships (1873, 1874), but in 1875–9 he dominated Irish athletics, winning on five occasions the 16-lb (7.26 kg) hammer with wooden handle and on three occasions the 16-lb shot, and also claiming the 56-lb (25.4 kg) weight title once. He would have claimed other weight-throwing titles, but on several occasions he could find no challenger. In 1876 he was part of the Irish team that competed against England at Lansdowne Road in the first ever athletics international, and threw the 16-lb hammer with wooden handle for a record distance of 131 ft 6 in. (40.08 m). At that same meeting he astonished the crowd by carrying the three heaviest members of the English team, one on his back and one on either shoulder, for a considerable distance. He retired from athletics in 1879, but came out of retirement briefly in 1881 to travel to the English AAA championships, where he won the 16-lb hammer and the 16-lb shot.
In 1879 he co-founded and served as chairman of the Carrick-on-Suir Amateur Athletic, Cricket, and Football club, which survived until 1883. Responding to a request from Michael Cusack (qv) to help establish a national sporting body, he chaired the founding meeting of the GAA on 1 November 1884 in Thurles and became its first president. His immense popularity in the country was of crucial importance in winning support for the association in its first months, but he proved to be far more than a figurehead. As an innovative and perceptive administrator, he drafted the constitution which effectively initiated the organisation of the association into parish and county units. He also drafted the early rules for football and hurling. As advanced nationalists attempted to gain control of the rapidly growing GAA, they faced an obstacle in the politically moderate Davin. A dispute with IRB members, who were a majority of the central executive, led to his resignation (April 1887) and only the intervention of Archbishop Croke (qv) and a sustained clergy-led campaign brought him back to the presidency in January 1888. Buoyed by his return, he organised and led the ‘American invasion’ of September 1888, when a party of fifty hurlers, athletes, and officials travelled to give hurling and athletics exhibitions in New York and Boston. Although it drew favourable comment in the press, the trip was a financial disaster and only a grant of £450 from Michael Davitt (qv) enabled them to travel home. This loss, on top of the financial problems already facing the GAA, brought Davin under renewed fire from the IRB element, who used it as a pretext to vent their hostility, and led to his resignation (January 1889). He never again played a central role in the GAA, but his love of sport remained undimmed. He organised sports in Deerpark, where he erected a timber stand, changing area, and fence. A number of Tipperary county finals and the All-Ireland finals of 1901 and 1904 were played there. He also served as Carrick-on-Suir delegate to the Tipperary county board in 1897.
After the death of his mother (1884), he ran the family business in partnership with his sister Bridget. He was a member of the Carrick farmers' club and successfully bred shorthorn bulls for a time until one of them almost gored a workman to death. Having rented Coolnamuck weir on the Suir, he took salmon from it for sale in the locality and continued to operate barges on the river until their displacement by more modern methods of transport. An expert set-dancer and violinist, he was well read, and studied in detail before undertaking any course of action. His genial personality and scrupulous honesty helped ensure his strong popularity in Ireland and abroad. In 1907 a journalist from the New York Post travelled to interview him at his home at Deerpark which also saw visits from successive American athletes and officials who called to pay their respects when travelling to Europe. He did not marry and died 26 January 1927 after a sudden illness.
He was predeceased by his brother Tom Davin (1851–89). Born June 1851, Tom was educated at William O'Shea's Academy and at Green's, a classical school in Carrick-on-Suir, before attending St Kieran's College, Kilkenny. He was apprenticed as a solicitor to Forsythe's, Eustace St., Dublin. Though he was an excellent oarsman in his brother's boat, his favourite pastime was hunting and he often rode with the Waterford hounds. It was his developing interest in athletics, and the success that he enjoyed in various local events, that helped persuade his elder brother Maurice to concentrate on the sport. Excelling in many events despite maintaining a minimalist approach to training, he won the Irish high-jump championship in 1873 and 1876, and was second in the long jump in 1873. He finished second in the high jump at the 1874 English AAA championships, and in 1876 won the high jump in the international with England. He was the first amateur to clear the 6-ft (1.83 m) barrier in the high jump, and the first ever to jump the height in Ireland, while he could also clear 22 ft (6.70 m) in the long jump. He retired in his mid twenties to concentrate on the extensive legal practice which he established in Carrick-on-Suir. He returned to his passion of hunting, but a serious leg injury forced him to abandon the sport and a subsequent breakdown in health saw him leave a wife, three sons, and three daughters when he died in Carrick-on-Suir on 18 August 1889.
A third brother, Pat Davin (1857–1949), also enjoyed a prestigious athletics career. In a somewhat chequered education where his love of land and river often overrode the call of study, he went to school at the William O'Shea academy and at Green's, Carrick-on-Suir, was tutored privately at home, and was then sent to Mount Mellaray seminary, before attending a grind school in Dublin. Although apprenticed to his brother's law firm, his life was dominated by athletics. After a series of top-quality performances, including finishing second to his brother, Tom, in the high jump in the international with England in 1876, he went on to dominate Irish athletics in 1878–83. He won both the high jump and the 120-yd hurdles on five occasions, the long jump on four, and the 100-yd sprint and 16-lb shot once each. He also won the high jump and long jump at the English AAA (1881), but the high point of his career was in 1880 when he broke the existing world high-jump record with a leap of 6 ft 2 3/4 in. (1.90 m) at his home sports in Carrick-on-Suir. He followed this in 1883 with a world-record-breaking long jump of 23 ft 2 in. (7.06 m) at Monasterevin, Co. Kildare, becoming the only man ever to hold world record in both disciplines. In October 1884 his career was cut short by rheumatic fever before he reached his peak, and it was not until 1886 that he began exercising outdoors, taking part in hurling matches. In 1888, however, the GAA's staging of an all-round athletics championship, including entrants from Canada and Britain, drew him from retirement and, despite training for just two weeks, he emerged a comfortable victor after twelve events. Spurred by this success he joined the GAA's ‘American invasion’ of that same year in the hope of competing against America's Alex Jordan and Malcolm Ford for what would have been the all-round championship of the world. Despite persistent requests neither man would meet him, and he retired.
With the rest of his brothers, he shared an interest in boxing and was a member of the Dublin boxing club in 1882. He also played cricket and appeared for Carrick-on-Suir football club, specialised in the long puck competition, participated in cross-country races, and entered dogs in coursing meetings. He married Ellen O'Dwyer and having lived in the family home at Deerpark, he died on 20 September 1949. A fourth brother, Denis, born in September 1846, operated a corn store in Carrick-on-Suir and worked a farm before emigrating to Australia.