Gibbons, Hugh (1916–2007), Gaelic footballer, medical doctor and politician, was born 6 July 1916 in Ballybeg, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, the fourth child of Luke Gibbons and his wife Ellen (née Egan). His parents married in 1910 and his father was a publican and merchant. Hugh Gibbons was educated in Camaska national school, Strokestown, and in 1929 won a scholarship to attend secondary school at Summerhill College, Sligo. In 1934 he won a scholarship to UCG and passed his final medical exams with second-class honours in December 1940.
As a teenager, Gibbons first came to prominence as a talented Gaelic footballer, and played on the Strokestown team that won the senior Roscommon county championship in 1933. At UCG he was a key player on the university football team that dominated the Sigerson Cup in the 1930s, and captained the team when UCG defeated UCD in the final in Croke Park in 1936. He was also prominently involved in athletics and was the secretary of the UCG athletic club (1937–8). In 1940 he played on the Roscommon team that won the junior all-Ireland football championship, and the following year was picked for the first time to represent Connacht in the Railway Cup. He was a substitute on the Roscommon team that won the 1943 senior all-Ireland final, defeating Cavan after a replay. Although he had played in earlier rounds of the championship, he was not selected for the final or the replay. The following year, with Gibbons playing at corner-forward, Roscommon retained their all-Ireland title, on this occasion defeating Kerry. In 1946 he was the coach of the Roscommon team that dramatically lost the senior final by conceding two late goals to Kerry. He was listed as a reserve for this match but took no part in the action.
Gibbons was heavily involved in the administration and politics of the GAA in Roscommon. He attended the 1942 GAA congress to support the candidacy of Dan O'Rourke, a Fianna Fáil TD and retired Roscommon footballer, for the presidency of the GAA; however, O'Rourke, the nominee of the Connacht council, withdrew his name from the election. His alliance with O'Rourke was not enduring and, in 1948, Gibbons caused a major surprise when he challenged and then substantially defeated O'Rourke, who by this stage was the serving GAA president, for the chair of the Roscommon county board. Gibbons served in this capacity until 1954. He was a member of the board of the Connacht council of the GAA (1954–64), and later served as president of the Roscommon board. Gibbons was a founder member of St. Ronan's GAA club, Ballyfarnon, and was prominently involved in the running of this club from its inception right up to his death, serving in different periods as club chairman and president.
Following his qualification as a medical doctor, Gibbons was appointed house surgeon at Roscommon County Hospital in May 1941. In December 1943 he became acting medical officer of the Aughrim (Roscommon) dispensary district. Gibbons moved to Dublin to work on clinical tests in the Coombe hospital in 1944, but returned to Roscommon in February 1945 when appointed temporary medical officer of Ballinameen dispensary district. He moved to Mayo to take up the position of medical officer of the Newport dispensary district in October 1945, and became medical officer of the Keadue dispensary district in Co. Roscommon in April 1947. He was to live in this area for the rest of his life. In 1949 Gibbons married Josephine Lee, originally from Cootehall, the daughter of Bernard and Mary Lee (née McKeon). From 1955 to 1960 he was secretary of the Keadue development body, beginning a long career in local activism.
As a stalwart of the GAA and a popular general practitioner, it was hardly surprising when Gibbons was encouraged to seek election to the dáil. Following the death of the Fine Gael TD, James J. Burke, Gibbons contested the Fianna Fáil convention in June 1964 to choose a party candidate for the forthcoming Roscommon by-election. He was strongly backed at the convention by supporters of the sitting Fianna Fáil TD, Brian Lenihan (qv), who was anxious that the candidate would come from the other end of the constituency to his stronghold in Athlone. Gibbons won a resounding convention victory to become the Fianna Fáil standard-bearer. In a television broadcast during the by-election, Taoiseach Seán Lemass (qv) urged voters to support Gibbons because he had 'shown great organising abilities in many spheres'. Despite performing credibly in the by-election and securing over 15,000 first-preference votes, Gibbons was narrowly defeated by Joan Burke, the widow of the Fine Gael TD whose death had caused the vacancy.
Gibbons did not have to wait long for a second attempt at election to the dáil. At the 1965 general election, Lenihan was comfortably elected and Gibbons, with just over 3,800 first preferences, won a second seat for Fianna Fáil. Ironically, Gibbons's victory was at the expense of an all-Ireland final teammate, Jack McQuillan (qv), who narrowly lost his seat to Gibbons on the final count.
After the election, Lenihan was reappointed minister for justice by Lemass. With his younger constituency colleague holding a senior cabinet position, Gibbons would have recognised that there was not much scope for his own political advancement. He continued to work as a doctor in Roscommon and, although he was a frequent contributor in the dáil on health issues and was active in raising concerns relating to his constituency, he was not perceived as being wholeheartedly committed to politics. Nevertheless in 1969 Gibbons dutifully ran for re-election even though boundary changes reduced the constituency to a three-seater. Both he and Lenihan were returned to the dáil as part of a spectacular national result for Fianna Fáil.
Gibbons was a reluctant supporter of Ireland's application for membership of the EEC. In 1969 he told the dáil that his misgivings were based on the fact that EEC membership would involve Ireland giving up a measure of independence that had been hard-won. Gibbons, however, was a staunch supporter of Jack Lynch (qv) and strongly backed the taoiseach in 1970 when the arms crisis divisions emerged in Fianna Fáil. He was a member of the public accounts committee that inquired into the controversial attempted arms importation and the spending of funds allocated for the relief of distress in Northern Ireland. In a debate on the 1972 offences against the state bill, Gibbons made reference to the fact that his family home had been picketed by militant republicans and he said he supported the passage of the bill because he had been 'subject to certain intimidation and certain fear'. In 1973, with Fianna Fáil facing into a difficult election, Gibbons and Lenihan again sought to retain two seats out of three for Fianna Fáil. In the run-up to polling day, Lenihan, assuming that his running mate was more vulnerable to defeat, urged voters in his part of the constituency to vote for Gibbons. As a vote-management tactic it was a gamble and it was ill-conceived. Gibbons was re-elected, but his high-profile party colleague lost his seat.
Gibbons was now the senior Fianna Fáil figure in Roscommon. Had the party been returned to government, he might have been offered a cabinet position, but Fianna Fáil instead ended up on the opposition benches for the first time in sixteen years, and Gibbons continued to devote as much time to medicine as to politics. While Lynch engaged in the process of rebuilding Fianna Fáil, Gibbons was a rather peripheral figure. In May 1974 he was one of twenty-eight members of the oireachtas to sign a letter to the British prime minister, Harold Wilson, urging a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. At the start of 1977 Gibbons announced that he would retire at the next election to return full-time to medicine. The Irish Times noted in April 1977 that Gibbons's announcement had 'the effect of flushing out a bevy of Fianna Fáil party men athirst for the nomination. They are mostly young Turks with a blood fleck in the whites of their eyes.' Lynch was concerned that Gibbons would be replaced by supporters of his party rival, Charles Haughey (qv), and prevailed upon him to reverse his decision. Gibbons eventually agreed to withdraw the notice of his retirement, but it was a bad call: he was roundly defeated at the Fianna Fáil convention by Sean Doherty (qv) and Terry Leyden, and he suffered the rare ignominy of an incumbent TD being denied his own party's nomination. Gibbons showed no bitterness, and worked assiduously on behalf of his Fianna Fáil colleagues at the 1977 general election. In the election's aftermath, he wrote to the Irish Times seeking to correct any misrepresentation and emphasising that he had supported Lynch at all times since his election as leader in 1966. Gibbons remained active in the local Fianna Fáil party organisation up to his death.
Gibbons was a trustee of the Irish Medical Union and did not retire as a local doctor until the late 1980s. He continued to be hugely involved in community activity in Keadue and its environs. He was to the forefront of efforts to bring an enterprise centre to Arigna in 1991, and was actively involved in the O'Carolan Harp Festival, the Tidy Towns competition, and church renovation works.
Gibbons died at his home in Keadue on 14 November 2007, and was buried in Kilronan cemetery, Keadue. He was survived by his four sons and two daughters. His son, Brian, also a medical doctor, was a member of the National Assembly for Wales (1999–2011), serving as minister for health and social services (2005–07) and minister for social justice and local government (2007–09). Another son, Conal, was appointed a district court judge in 2001.