O'Dowd, Ignatius (‘Nace’) (1931–87), Gaelic footballer and hotelier, was born 1 August 1931 in Rinbane, Ballinacarrow, Co. Sligo, where he attended the Carrowrile national school before progressing to Tubbercurry vocational school. He was one of five boys and three girls in his family. On completing his education he became a builder's apprentice with the firm of Maloney and Taylor, and as part of his builder's trade he moved to Castlebar. He later returned to Sligo to employment at Gowna Wood Industries, Collooney, and in 1959 he emigrated to the USA.
It was as a footballer that O'Dowd made his mark, and this process started early. He captained and won a minor county medal with Ballinacarrow in 1947, aged just fifteen, and in the same year played for Sligo's senior team in a challenge match against Mayo. This makes him certainly the youngest player ever to represent Sligo at senior football level. Local legend would have him as the youngest player ever to play senior football nationally, but the nature of GAA records make this impossible to verify. In 1949 he captained Sligo to their first Connacht minor football title. His senior intercounty career blossomed in the 1950s as Sligo suffered a succession of heartbreaking near misses in their quest for a first Connacht title since 1928. It was O'Dowd's misfortune perhaps to play for Sligo in a decade when Connacht football was close to its strongest point ever, a fact attested to by the all-Ireland success of Mayo in 1950 and 1951 and Galway in 1956. This strength is further evidenced in Connacht's three Railway Cup successes in that decade, in 1951, 1957, and 1958. Owing to his presence on these three victorious teams in the annual contest between the four provinces, O'Dowd remains the only Sligo man with three Railway Cup medals. In addition to his interprovincial representative honours, he represented Ireland twice, in 1954 and 1955, against the Combined Universities. After emigrating, he played a number of times for New York selections.
On his return from America in the early 1970s O'Dowd purchased the Sancta Maria Hotel in the Co. Sligo seaside resort of Strandhill, which he managed together with his wife, Bridgie. It quickly became a popular local centre of entertainment and hospitality, holding a particular appeal as a destination for young couples’ wedding receptions. During this time O'Dowd turned to GAA administration, representing Sligo on the Connacht council and managing the under-21 team. He was also a generous sponsor and benefactor to the various local Coolera-Strandhill club teams, training a number of under-age teams himself.
O'Dowd died of cancer at the young age of fifty-five on Saturday 16 May 1987 at his home in the Sancta Maria Hotel, Strandhill. Members of the GAA formed a guard of honour at his removal, outside the church, and at the graveside on the day of his funeral, Monday 18 May. He was buried in St Patrick's cemetery, Scarden, close to Strandhill. All GAA fixtures in Co. Sligo were postponed on the Sunday after his death. In a tribute in the Sligo Champion of 29 May 1987, GAA historian and commentator Jack Mahon of Galway called O'Dowd ‘Sligo's greatest footballer in my lifetime’. In the following week's edition, Tom Kilcoyne, Sligo county board secretary, wrote of O'Dowd's death leaving a void that could never be filled. The GAA grounds at Mullinabreena/Coolaney were later named the Nace O'Dowd Park.
O'Dowd is acknowledged as the greatest Gaelic football player ever to wear the Sligo colours. His impact on the consciousness of the Sligo populace, however, went far beyond his contribution on the football field. The way in which he was an icon for a whole county, at a time of economic recession and high emigration, was evidenced in the spontaneous outpouring of grief and sympathy at the time of his death. There were eulogies to him in the Sligo Champion in the three editions subsequent to his death and burial; no bishop in the second half of the twentieth century gained comparable coverage beyond the first edition of the paper following his death.