Back in 1967 when a young Tony McFadden from Falcarragh joined many Donegal men who took the boat in search of work across the water, he may have left home but home never left him.
Tony has now spent over 40 years in Britain but still maintains deep ties to his home county and the large Donegal community based in the English capital.
He is married to Philomena, originally from Sligo and they have three children, daughters Fiona and Emma and son Paul.
Not only has he built a successful business of his own, he is also at the helm of the Donegal Association of London as Chairman and puts a great deal of time and resource into working with the committee to help host a range of events that celebrate all things Donegal and its unique culture.
“I’m away since 1967. I went to Glasgow first then I came to London and started working on the tunnels,” he said. “That was my first work and I spent about 15 years in the tunnel work, then I started doing building work. I started doing private jobs, things like extensions for houses and then we got into supplying labour. From there on we got into utility work.”
He founded ‘Tony McFadden Developments’ in 1980 and over the years has grown his company successfully.
“We started in 1980. We have had a few companies going. London is a great old place. There is always something going on. Even if there is a recession here, very few of the likes of us suffer that much with it. In the utility work, water mains have to be repaired.
“There is plenty work there. The type of work we do is fixing burst water mains and it’s always happening. Now, the colder the weather, for us all the better. The busier you get and as I always say ‘an ill wind doesn’t blow’. In the summer when the dry weather comes if there is a crack in the pipe it will go again.”
Speaking at tje highly successful 65th annual Donegal Association event held in the plush surrounds of the Crown Moran Hotel in Cricklewood, North West London, he says it is great to be involved in a group that helps London’s Donegal Diaspora maintain close bonds. He says part of its success is the unique way they can rely on people to pull together on an informal fashion to support their events.
“We get great, massive, support from people. There are 15 to 16 contractors down here tonight. All Donegal fellas. When I took over in 2004 I wrote to all the companies and followed it up with phone calls to every one of them and that’s what made it easy for me because everyone of them would take a table of 12. I never had tickets yet. People say ‘How do you run it without tickets?’ and I say ‘Because I know everyone of them and if one books a table for 12 and 13 shows up, the man at the table knows who shouldn’t be there, it’s not my problem. That’s how I worked it. Then for the individuals (looking to go to the event) I do a list of names and tell them to call up.”
He has a enjoyed a long relationship with the Donegal group before he got involved in the running of the annual celebration.
“I have been doing sponsored prizes since 1980 but started coming to the event since about 1975. There was a lovely lady from beside us at home, Susan Carr, she was married to an O’Donnell man from Dungloe, she got us involved with it. We didn’t even know the Donegal Association even existed. Susan got myself and Brian Boyle from Moyra involved. I can remember the two of us going to it and after that we went every year. It’s a great thing and as Francie Carr always says: ‘If you don’t see a man all year you’ll see him at the Donegal do’. It is nearly the same every year and it is like a repeat.”
The Association has now expanded its committee and has enjoyed much success recently.
“The first one I had down the city, in the Mariot, it had 470 people and I had no committee, no tickets, no nothing. I booked the bands and the whole lot. I did two down there. Then we moved to the Emirates (Stadium complex home of Arsenal FC) and then Clodagh (Van der Hart, nee Connolly from Ards Creeslough) joined. Then there were a few more boys that came along and got on board, Mark Monagle from Malin, Peter McGinley from Carrick, Paul O’Donnell from Kilcar and they are great people,”
He added: “On St Patrick Day this year they won the cup for the best float, the best presentation and the most effort put in out of the whole parade. I like to meet the people and I like arranging it and getting it all organised. There are two girls in my office who know more about Donegal and one of them, Anna, is from Spain and Rachel is from Dublin.”
His team had a busy run-up to this year’s dinner dance event, organising the logistics to bring special guests Jim McGuinness and five of his All-Ireland winning players and a special shiny guest who goes by the name of ‘Sam’.
Speaking of this year’s guests he said: “They had a great time. They are lovely lads, the two McGees, Karl Lacey, Michael Murphy and big Neil (Gallagher). It is hard to believe they are the same boys that you see on the football field and they are down there now mixing with the crowd. It’s good craic and plenty of blackguarding,”
“Every year I think I say it is my last and none of them want to take it over because they say if you leave, the crowd might leave but I tell them ‘I’m not leaving. I’ll still be there’.”
He also keeps up with London based GAA with Tir Conal Gaels where he sponsors the U-12 kit and the Donegal Association have sponsored footballs and nets in the past.
“We keep our hand in and you wouldn’t turn your back on them. They have ten teams ranging from senior to junior and it is well looked after.”
Speaking on the bonds with home he agrees they never leave and he is proud of his deep Donegal roots.
His brother Owenie now lives in the family home place and he still enjoys returning when possible, although less often since his parents passed away.
“I might build a house there later and come and go a bit more often. I like going back to the old places, back to the place you left. People are saying you should tumble the old house and build a new one but I wouldn’t tumble it because that is your history. That is where I was born and that’s where our father was reared.
“It means too much.”