Garvey, Philomena Kathleen (1926–2009), amateur golfer, was born on 26 April 1926 in the village of Baltray, Co. Louth, the youngest of six children (four sons and two daughters) of James Garvey, a seaman, and his wife Kathleen (née Owens), whose father had been a ship's captain. Philomena went to the girls' national school in Termonfeckin, Co. Louth. From an early age, like her siblings, she played golf at every opportunity at their local links course at Baltray, the County Louth Golf Club. Her brother Kevin Garvey won the East of Ireland championship in 1942.
That same year, Philomena, aged 16, won the captain's prize at Baltray, and, from then on, golf championships were the most important thing in her life. She worked first as a clerk in the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes office in Ballsbridge, Dublin, and later as a sales assistant in Clery's department store, but returned to Baltray as often as she could to play her home course. She was fortunate that the shop's owners, Denis Guiney (qv) and his wife Mary Guiney (qv), were interested in golf and allowed her to take unpaid leave during the summer to practise and compete. In 1947 she seriously considered accepting an offer of marriage, but since it was conditional on her giving up golf, she turned it down, and never married. (In the opinion of one distinguished contemporary male golfer in England, a married woman playing golf well enough to win championships provided sufficient grounds for divorce.)
In 1944 Garvey was defeated in the Leinster Cup by Clarrie Reddan (qv), ten years her senior, and also a member of the County Louth club, but in subsequent encounters Garvey triumphed. Their sporting rivalry became personal, and the two women were never to be on friendly terms. The final of the Irish ladies' championship in 1946, in Lahinch, was particularly thrilling, with Garvey winning a playoff decided by a stymie on the 39th green. Commentators marvelled at her focus and concentration, as much as at her technique; the famous English golfer Henry Cotton said she was the finest woman golfer he had ever seen, and others used adjectives like 'dazzling' and 'devastating'. For most of her playing career, she was the pre-eminent woman golfer in Ireland; she won fifteen Irish ladies' amateur championships from 1946 to 1970, and was never defeated in any of the finals of that contest in which she participated.
In 1950 Garvey reached the quarter-finals of the US open championship. She was generally not able to travel to the United States to compete there, because as an amateur without a private income she could not afford it, but in 1950, as a member of the Curtis Cup team, her way was paid. Garvey was selected by the Ladies' Golf Union (LGU) for the prestigious Curtis Cup team in 1948, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1958 and 1960, and in 1952 contributed to the first ever victory of the Great Britain and Ireland team over the United States. She did not play in 1958 because of a celebrated disagreement with the golfing authorities. The LGU produced a new emblem for the Curtis Cup team, representing only the union jack, and Garvey refused to play if there was no recognition of Ireland, saying it would have been disloyalty to her country to accept the union flag. She offered to wear the earlier version of the badge, representing emblems of all four home countries, but the LGU was immovable and Garvey did not travel with the team. Her principled stand was supported by the non-playing captain of the Curtis Cup team, Daisy Ferguson from Royal County Down, and by many other individuals and organisations in Ireland, including the Irish Ladies' Golf Union. Garvey, a reserved and private person, tried to avoid publicity in the matter, and, when a more acceptable badge was issued for the 1960 event, she felt able to play when selected for the team. However, she was not chosen in any subsequent year, though at the peak of her prowess in competition, and some commentators believed she had become persona non grata with the LGU.
Garvey had experienced some controversy earlier in her career, when the sport's governing body, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, investigated her amateur status, in doubt because of her job in Clery's, which required her to sell golf clubs. In February 1949 the authorities ruled that she was indeed an amateur player, so that she was able to continue her almost unequalled record of participation in the women's blue riband event, the British ladies' amateur open championship. She lost in finals four times (in 1946, 1953, 1960 and 1963), but won the event in 1957 at Gleneagles. In the last stages of that match against the famous Scottish player Jessie Valentine, Garvey twisted her ankle. Her friend Kitty MacCann (a previous British open champion) was a spectator along with her husband Pat MacCann, a veterinary surgeon. He was able to use a handkerchief to bind the ankle and allow Philomena to continue to victory by 4 and 3. On her return to Ireland, she was accorded a civic reception in Drogheda in June 1957, and a hero's welcome back to Baltray through an archway of golf clubs held aloft by her friends there.
For the years 1964–7, Garvey allowed her amateur status to lapse as she attempted to make a career as the first woman professional golfer in Ireland. She gave lessons, endorsed the 'Philomena Garvey golf club', and contributed fifteen weekly articles to the Evening Herald, but she found that the opportunities were insufficient for her to be able to maintain her income and develop her game. From the 1968 season, she regained amateur status. Admitting that she was tired of reading about the apparently unbeatable 21-year-old Mary McKenna, the 1969 Irish close champion, lauded as the Baltray player's obvious successor, Garvey, still fiercely competitive, went all out in 1970 to win the Irish ladies' championship, and did so for the fifteenth time at Royal Portrush on 23 May 1970. Shortly afterwards, she announced her retirement from international golf competition.
Garvey received numerous sporting awards throughout her career: she was nominated as the 1963 Texaco sportsperson of the year, had honorary life membership of the Baltray club, and was made a life vice-president of the Irish Ladies' Golf Union in honour of her golfing record. In 1980 the Irish Golf Writers' Association gave her their distinguished services to golf award. In old age she was robbed of her mobility by osteoporosis, and was sometimes forced to use a wheelchair. Philomena Garvey died of a heart attack as she entered the Baltray clubhouse on 5 May 2009, just a fortnight before her beloved club was to host the men's Irish open championship.