John McGroddy obituary: Retired garda and cornerstone of the community

Lives lost to Covid-19: Donegal golf lover ran a hardware shop in Swords for years

John McGroddy with his wife Nell. John died with Covid-19 on March 29th. Nell is recovering for the virus.

John McGroddy with his wife Nell. John died with Covid-19 on March 29th. Nell is recovering for the virus.


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John (Johnny) McGroddy

John McGroddy and his wife Nell were both in the Tara Winthrop nursing home in Swords, Co Dublin, when they contracted Covid-19 within days of each other.

While Nell is recovering from the virus, John, called Johnny by his family, died on March 29th, the first from the nursing home to die with coronavirus.

The couple were together for more than half a century and Nell had moved into the nursing home to be with him.

The funeral was an eerie experience, with no hugging or consoling each other and standing apart in the car park. “We couldn’t even tell his golfing buddies because they would have turned up,” his son Dominic says, concerned that they could have been put in danger given the pandemic restrictions.

“And that was very hard that we couldn’t celebrate his life,” the life of the retired garda, a cornerstone of the community.

Golf was a huge part of his life, having been born in Carrickart in northwest Donegal close to the famous Rosapenna links course and where “he used to say he grew up caddying for the gentry”.

From a family of three brothers and four sisters, his father was a man of several trades but mainly carpentry and Johnny went to Scotland and did some carpentry before being accepted as a trainee garda in the early 1960s, when they used to do their training in the Phoenix Park.

“My mother’s father was the training sergeant – so my mum and her sisters used to tell us that they’d sit on the wall watching all the rednecks come up to Dublin and they had their pick of them. So we like to say he never had a chance.”

He was one of six recruits posted to Swords where he and the five other gardaí each built their own house on a plot of land on Brackenstown Road.

A garda until 1986, he opened a timber and hardware shop in Swords called Big J, a successful business he ran for about 14 years until a recession hit and the store closed.

Throughout his working life and into retirement he remained passionate about golf, with a handicap of six or seven in his day.

He joined Donabate Golf Club and served as captain in 2007.

“He loved the competition and the buzz of the game and the bustle and the rising people before a match and getting on their nerves just to put them off the game. They call it ‘bustling’ in golf,” Dominic recalls.

He passed his love for golf onto his two sons, Dominic and Jake.

“He loved taking €2 off me and my brother, no matter what age we were he was always happy to win a few bob.”

The €2 prize became part of a family ritual. “He couldn’t accept change – it had to be the €2 coin or nothing, just to make a bit of ceremony about it.”

He loved the craic and he loved his pint. “That was the thing he missed most when he was in the home and we used to bring him out for a pint as much as we could.”

He went into the nursing home three years ago as he was becoming less mobile and his wife struggled to take care of him. Nell moved there a year ago.

In the end “it all came down suddenly. Within three or four days we were told it was getting worse and next thing he was gone.”

Johnny is survived by Nell, his children Dominic, Una, Kate, Jake and Seán, siblings Winnie, Michael and Bernadette and 10 grandchildren.

Covid-19: Lives Lost