Tributes have been paid to the popular Willesden businessman Tony McGovern who died on New Year’s Day.
Mr McGovern, originally from Aughavas in County Leitrim, started his business empire in north-west London with the McGovern Brothers haulage firm on Dudden Hill Lane near Willesden and Neasden.
Over the years he bought up several local properties including yards as well as pubs, and other businesses.
He accumulated extensive interests in and around Willesden, Kilburn and Cricklewood.
He retained an interest in the long-established and popular McGovern’s pub in Willesden, named after him.
It stayed closed on Monday as a mark of respect but said it would reopen the following day.
With his wife, Bernadette, he supported many charities and causes among the local Irish community here and in his native Leitrim.
He was a major sponsor of both London and Leitrim GAA. London’s home ground in Ruislip, McGovern Park, is named after Tony and Bernadette after he paid for the naming rights.
The Leitrim GAA McGovern Aughavas Centre of Excellence is also named after him.
A year ago, Tony’s brother James McGovern who lived in Ireland and was also a major sponsor of Leitrim GAA, died.
London-based Tony supported the local Leitrim Association, Brent Irish Advisory Service (BIAS), the London Irish Vintage Day in Greenford and other local, community-based charities.
The chair of London GAA John Doyle said: “It is with great sadness for London GAA to hear of the passing of Tony McGovern.
“Tony has been a tremendous supporter of London GAA over many years most recently owning the naming rights to McGovern Park, Ruislip.
“Tony was an integral part of the fundraising team for the Ruislip development and each year was involved with London GAA float at the annual London St Patrick’s day parade through central London.
“Condolences to the McGovern family and his wide circle of friends.”
Mike McGing of Brent Irish Advisory Service said: “We would like to thank Tony and family for all their support over many decades supporting the Brent Irish Advice Service and the Irish community.
“Tony helped the Irish community in so many ways both by helping with employment in the ‘50s and ‘60s when times were hard for the Irish community, he’s helped a variety of other charities.
“When there has been hardships for families, he and the family arranged to help those families with funeral arrangements and other key areas.
“Tony was a man who didn’t look for acclaim and limelight but always had a big heart and we’re very saddened by the news.
“He was a great man.
“They don’t make them like Tony anymore.
“Rest in peace.”
Brendan Vaughan, founder and organiser of London Irish Vintage Day, said: “When we started the Vintage Club in 2011, Tony was a great supporter and he’s going to be sadly missed by the wider London-Irish community.
“There’s no question about that.
“You couldn’t get a more decent human being and he’s going to be a big miss, a big void in the London-Irish community.
“He did so much and there’s so much he’s done that people don’t even know about.”
Former Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) chair Lucia Butler said: “He was a very loyal friend to many. He did a lot for charity both in London and in Leitrim and never wanted to be acknowledged for any of it. He leaves a big void in the Irish community here and will be a hard act to follow.”
Michael Curry of the Leitrim Association of London said: “Tony was great to us, he will be sorely missed by the association and a lot of other associations in London as well.
“He was such a generous benefactor to us through the years.
“He did a lot for the GAA in London, as well as the GAA at home in Ireland.
“He’ll be a huge loss to London as well as our Leitrim Association.”
In 1994 the McGovern Brothers were Leitrim’s sponsors when the county became Connacht Champions.
In 2000 their homeland club Aughavas, which they sponsored, won the Leitrim Senior Championship after a gap of 34 years.
As sponsors to this day, the McGovern name remains on the club’s jerseys.
In July 2008, the McGoverns paid for new club facilities for Aughavas including dressing rooms and a gym to be dedicated to the memory of their late brother, Paddy Joe.
When the county team’s home ground Pairc Mac Diarmada was redeveloped the main stand was named after the McGoverns as The McGovern Stand or Ardan Mhic Shamhrain.
Tony and Bernadette McGovern sponsored the Leitrim GAA’s McGovern Centre of Excellence which has two floodlit all-weather pitches, four dressing rooms, an indoor handball court, a fully equipped gym, and meeting and analysis rooms. for what will be the home of Leitrim GAA for years to come.
Gerry Gallogly, Chairman of Aughavas GAA, said: “He was a great sponsor of the club and a great supporter of our club and county as well.
“He always came back to different functions in the club.
“The McGovern brothers were very good.
“He just was a good community man as well.
“He looked after the church and different things within the parish as well.
“He was a great parish man, great community man within the parish.
“They were good for the parish as well.”
Keith Conefrey, Secretary of Aughavas GAA, added: “Tony and James and Gerry were great supporters of our club going back. They played themselves with the club back in the ‘50s and ‘60s and then when they went away and formed businesses, they looked after the club financially and as great supporters of the club too.
“As with Leitrim, they sponsored the Leitrim GAA team as well for four or five years too,
“We’re just after coming from a function in Carrick-on-Shannon and there was a minute’s silence for Tony at it, he is held in high esteem by everybody in Leitrim and in Aughavas.
“Tony was in London, but you would still see him in the summer, he would always come around for one or two of the championship games, but they were great Aughavas people.
“Our last senior championship was in 2000 and around that time, Tony and James and Gerry were donating money and coming to the games, and I know that was a big one for them when we won the senior championship in 2000, but in recent years we’ve won a few juniors, and again they were around, and they were happy and celebrated with us during those times as well.
“They’ll be missed, sadly missed by everyone in the parish.
“It is a sad day.”
Councillor Enda Stenson, Chairperson of Leitrim GAA, said: “Tony McGovern and the McGovern family in general have been so, so generous to Leitrim.
“You can’t say thanks often enough to people like that for what they have done for us.
“What the McGoverns have done is incredible, unbelievable, and it’s sad for Leitrim, particularly Aughavas people and for the McGovern family who have lost a wonderful human being, a wonderful person.
“Leitrim people in general have lost somebody that’s irreplaceable, irreplaceable to the county.
“His generosity knew no bounds.
“I don’t know if people will ever come around again that will do what they have done for us.
“I don’t know if my words are in any way good enough to pay tribute to Tony McGovern.
“They just don’t make people like that anymore.
“No words of mine can pay proper gratitude for what he has done for us.
“Over the years when we needed money and we went to the McGoverns, the McGoverns were there and they helped us.
“And we’re a very small county and we don’t have the funds that other counties have or anything like it.
“We couldn’t be where we are, we couldn’t have the facilities that we have to match other counties if it wasn’t for Tony McGovern and the McGovern family.
“I’m sure the Irish people in London can say the very same thing.
“It (McGovern Park) stands as a monument to the McGovern family that left Aughavas so many years ago and worked hard, it wasn’t that anyone handed them anything. They worked hard for a living.
“They didn’t leave Aughavas with money but when they made money, they were generous. For that, we can never, ever forget them.”