County Longford stalwart dies in London
by Aisling Kiernan
One of Longford's best known London-based residents John Armstrong (86) passed away surrounded by his loving family at his home on Christmas Day.
John had been part of the County Longford Association in London for the best part of 40 years and was also a member of the Order of the Knights of Saint Columbanus and a staunch supporter of the Council of Irish Counties in London.
Born in Killoe in 1924, he moved to Newtownforbes to live with his mother's brother, Pat Gregg following the death of his father. He attended Garrahill NS during his early childhood and after finishing his primary education, he worked on his uncle's farm. In 1949, at the age of 25, he left his native homeland in search of pastures new and arrived in London.
When he arrived in London, work was scarce and John initially began working as a driver for a number of companies there, one of which was the Tate and Lyle Sugar Company. He also drove oil tankers for the oil companies and became employed by London Transport as a bus driver, a job which he remained at for over 40 years.
It was in London that he met his beloved wife Lil and they married in 1951. Together they reared four children - Brenda, Carmel, Pearl and Eamon.
John Armstrong was a proud Longford man. He never forgot where he came from and loved to come back home to Longford at least once a year after settling in London.
In more recent years, when he returned to Longford he stayed at Prunty's B&B in Newtownforbes. John and Lil proudly carried the Longford flag in the St Patrick's Day Parade in London every year and they metaphorically flew that flag wherever they went, promoting the county. John joined the Longford Association in London in 1955, just two years after it was founded and was chairman of the committee for many years.
In the early years of the association's existence it became the first port of call for Longfordians embarking on a new life in England.
"In the early years of the association it served as a great connection for people coming over from Longford to London," explained Brian McKenna. "Back then people couldn't afford to come home as often as they do now and they were lucky if they got home once a year. The County Longford Association in London brought people together and created a home from home feeling which helped everybody to keep going.
"John was a stalwart within the association, nurturing it as it grew in strength and he and Lil were constantly engaged in fundraising initiatives to keep the association strong."
John Armstrong was also a District Deputy in the Knights of Columbanus and staunch member of the Council of Irish Counties in London. In 2008 the Irish World Newspaper presented him with a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the County Longford Association in London.
"He was a true, true friend and anything you asked of him, he did it," said Mr McKenna. "John promoted Longford everywhere he went and he was one of the most reliable, hard working, loyal and kindest men you could ever meet."
John Armstrong is survived by his wife Lil; son Eamon (Meath); daughters Brenda and Carmel (London) and Pearl (Spain); brother Joe (New York); sisters May and Eileen grandchildren; relatives and a wide circle of friends.
He will be cremated in London later this week and his ashes will be returned to his native Longford in the coming weeks.