McKay, John (c.1850–p.1916), journalist, athletics administrator, and co-founder of the GAA, was born in Belfast. Although very little is known about his origins or personal life, he had an important role in the foundation and early development of the GAA, which has generally been underestimated. He first emerged to prominence in sporting circles as an organiser with the Cork Athletic club, whose meetings he publicised through his role as a journalist on the Cork Examiner and Cork Evening Herald. His prominent position in athletics in Munster meant he was one of several hundred people invited by Michael Cusack (qv) and Maurice Davin (qv) to a meeting in Thurles on 1 November 1884 to discuss the foundation of a native Irish athletics organisation. McKay, whose main interest was in athletics rather than the native games of hurling and football, assumed that the meeting (which was attended by only seven people) would take the form of preliminary discussions, and he only reluctantly agreed to the actual founding of the Gaelic Association for the Preservation of Cultural and National Pastimes (later the Gaelic Athletic Association). He did so only because the arguments of Cusack and Davin for the creation of an Irish-based organisation to control athletics coincided so neatly with his own views on efficient athletics administration and his rather conservative nationalism. After seconding the motion to elect Davin as the association's first president, he accepted the position of joint honorary secretary with Cusack and John Wyse Power (qv).
The conversion of such a prominent figure in native athletics to the nascent GAA was a minor triumph for Cusack, and McKay's publicity for the organisation in the columns of the Cork Examiner was crucial to its early growth. In the face of hostility from the unionist element in Irish athletics, he championed the holding of GAA athletics meetings throughout Munster in 1885 and was instrumental in securing the allegiance of the prestigious Cork Athletic Club to the GAA. He was also active in opposing the rival Irish Amateur Athletic Association (IAAA) and helped organise the triumphant Tralee games in which the GAA's ascendancy over the IAAA was confirmed. He later supported Cusack's hard-line rebuttal to a proposed amalgamation of the two organisations. An efficient and energetic administrator, he was largely responsible for the association's early emphasis on athletics, rather than hurling and football, which was crucial to its initial success. He also campaigned successfully for the banning of money prizes at GAA meetings. In 1886, frustrated by Cusack's dictatorial and inefficient control of the organisation, he openly denounced the founder's criticism of the GAA's first patron, Archbishop Thomas Croke (qv) of Cashel, and on 4 July of that year joined with Wyse Power to effect Cusack's removal as secretary. It is unclear why he himself resigned on 27 September 1886, although it seems likely that he was concerned by the growing influence exerted by the IRB over the association after the departure of Cusack. He lived at this time (1890) at Innesfallen, Southend Road, Cork city. By 1900 he had moved to Dublin and was working as a freelance journalist on a variety of newspapers in Dublin. Remaining involved in athletics organisation, he attended the GAA's annual congress in 1902. He later returned to Belfast and then London, and it is unclear when he died. He was still living in London in 1916 but died before the GAA celebrated its golden jubilee in 1934.