Johnny Crowley, the former chairman of Community Games in Westmeath, who died yesterday.

The late Johnny Crowley was a Community Games pioneer

Johnny Crowley, the Mullingar man who was synonymous with the development and success of the Community Games movement in Westmeath across five decades, has died.

Johnny passed to his eternal reward last night (Monday January 24) at the Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore following a short battle with illness which he fought bravely to the end.

A former employee of the Westmeath Examiner, Johnny earned widespread respect for the depth of his commitment to providing sporting and intellectual competition for the young people of Mullingar and Westmeath.

His involvement with the Community Games in Westmeath dates back to 1973, when the Cardinal D’Alton Park Community Games area was established in Mullingar following the birth of the movement in Dublin two years earlier.

After moving to the Hillside Drive estate in the late 1970s, Johnny became the mainstay of Community Games activities in the greater Ballinderry area of Mullingar, which became the exemplar for the movement in Westmeath.

His dedication and acumen led to his promotion to the county executive, where he served alongside the likes of Jack Coleman – who later became national Community Games chairman – Paddy Foley, Peter Kenny, Mary and Austin Murray, Ann Sleator, Elsie Kenny and Molly Cahill. The committee oversaw the hosting of the Leinster finals in 1980 and 1981, which was one of Johnny’s fondest memories.

Following Jack Coleman’s passing in 1987, Johnny was invited to take on the mantle of county chairman. He accepted, and the role became a labour of love for him for almost 29 years. Indeed, during his time as Westmeath chairman, he also served as a member of the national executive for ten years, and as vice-chairman and later chairman (2010) of the Leinster executive.

Johnny’s tenure as a leading Community Games official coincided with an unprecedented level of economic success in Ireland, and under his leadership, the county executive took full advantage of this prosperity to develop the movement in Westmeath to its maximum potential.

In 1995, Westmeath Community Games developed its own state-of-the-art headquarters, a national first for the organisation, by converting part of Mullingar Town Band’s existing facility at Lynn Industrial Park. The purpose-built centre was officially opened by President Mary Robinson – certainly one of Johnny’s proudest days.

When the Mosney resort – the site of decades of Community Games national finals – closed its doors in 2008, it was a sad moment for Johnny and the rest of the movement. But the fact that the national finals subsequently moved to the spectacular new facility attached to Athlone IT, coupled with the transfer of the national Community Games headquarters from Dublin to a site at Golden Island, Athlone, made the parting with Mosney bearable. It also bore testimony to the standing which Westmeath had in the national movement – due in no small part to the work of people like Johnny Crowley.

Johnny spent 40 years working with the Westmeath Examiner as a compositor, at one stage working alongside the late Joe Dolan. He channelled his inside knowledge of the press into the Community Games, for years combining the role as Westmeath chairman with that of PRO. Working with local newspapers, he provided extensive editorial and photographic coverage every week which saw Westmeath pick up numerous gongs at the National Media Awards.

The late Johnny Crowley (right), receiving a Westmeath County Council Cathaoirleach’s Award from then council chairman, Cllr Joe Flanagan, in June 2007.

In 2007, Johnny himself was one of the first recipients of Westmeath County Council’s Cathaoirleach’s Awards, and in 2013, 40 years after his involvement with the Community Games began in Mullingar, he was inducted into the Westmeath Examiner’s Hall of Fame at its annual Sports Awards.

Even then, there was no sign of Johnny retiring from his passion. However, in 2016, after 43 years of service, changes in the Community Games organisation’s structures at national level brought Johnny’s involvement with the movement to a premature end. In March 2017, he was recognised by the Community Games nationally with an Aldi Golden Jubilee Volunteer Award, which was presented at a luncheon in Athlone’s Shamrock Lodge Hotel.

The love of sport, which Johnny so amply shared with generations of Westmeath youth, was always in his blood from an early age. He was an active member of the Pearses Hurling Club, which later became St Oliver Plunkett’s Hurling Club, Mullingar. In football, he also represented the Mullingar Shamrocks club with distinction.

Johnny is mourned by his wife and best friend Pauline (née Gardiner), and their nine children John Paul, Kenneth, Mark, Gerry, Barry, Daragh, Avril (Cooney), Caitríona and Padraig, a number of whom proudly wore the Westmeath singlet at Mosney over the years.

He is also sadly missed by his 20 adored grandchildren, sisters Pat (Jones), Pauline (Griffin), Eileen (Morris), Catherine (Grehan), brothers Christy and Hubert, daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, nieces, nephews, relatives, many friends and colleagues in the Community Games.

‘Johnny was Westmeath Community Games’

Cllr Emily Wallace, chairperson of Westmeath Community Games, said that the movement in Westmeath is collectively “shocked and saddened” by Johnny’s passing.

“It’s an absolutely massive loss. Up until only recently he was keeping an eye on our HQ at the band hall, tipping in and out, keeping an eye on post, especially during Covid,” said Cllr Wallace.

“Johnny was Westmeath Community Games. He lived and breathed it, and epitomised everything that is good about Community Games movement – in the depth of his involvement, his commitment, volunteering, and his encouraging people to be active, particularly children.

“Our thoughts are with his family, and all the areas he worked with over the years.

“It’s a sad day, but we can be proud that we had someone like him. He left his own legacy in Westmeath, and indeed at Leinster and national level.”

Johnny will repose at Gilsenan’s Funeral Home, Mullingar this Thursday, January 27th from 4pm to 6pm, and his Funeral Mass will be celebrated at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar on Friday at 11am (family flowers only please), followed by a cremation service at 2pm in the Lakelands Crematorium, Cavan.

The Funeral Mass may be viewed live on Donations, if desired, can be lodged with the Friends of Tullamore Regional Hospital.