Local Faces: John Conroy

By Aideen O'Flaherty

THE key to giving back to your community is ensuring that you get something positive in return, whether it be learning something new or developing a new skill, according to John Conroy, who has over four decades of involvement in community groups in Tallaght.

John (73) first got a taste for community involvement in the late 60s by taking part in plays held by the Mater Dei Youth Club’s drama group in Cabra west – and this is also where his link with Tallaght began.

John Conroy 08 1

John Conroy

The members of the Cabra drama group became friends with members of the Tallaght-based St Dominic’s Drama Group – whose members included Mervyn Ennis and Echo editor David Kennedy – but it would be several years before John made Tallaght his home.

The stage beckoned, and John performed in the Abbey Theatre after wowing the casting directors in a competitive audition process when he was in his 20s, but he continued working as a sheet metal worker during this time.

The world of professional acting didn’t appeal to John because of the demands it would’ve placed on his life, so he never pursued it as a career. Instead, he focused on settling down with his wife Bernadette and starting a family in Tallaght, when they bought a house in Kilnamanagh in 1975.

“We had no road and no path, there was just dust,” John told The Echo. “It was very challenging for people who were living in Tallaght then. At the time all the new people who were moving to the area felt like intruders.

“Springfield and parts of Kilnamanagh had been built by that stage, but there was a lot of pressure and change imposed upon people in Tallaght who were used to living in the country and on farms.

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John says that the things you get involved in have to be a learning and growing experience for you. Any generosity or feeding of something has to be fed itself

“It was a culture shock for us, and a culture shock for them.”

It took John about four years to get used to living in Tallaght, which at that time was still a relatively isolated and poorly serviced area, in terms of amenities and transport.

“People didn’t have as many cars then as they do now,” he added. “I remember in the early 60s I’d come out to Tallaght with work for a day trip to play pitch and putt in the Cuckoo’s Nest – and it really was a day trip to get there and back.”

John Conroy 06

John Conroy

After settling into the area, John returned to his love of treading the boards, by joining the Tallaght Theatre Group and setting up the St Kevin’s Children’s Drama Workshop and the Tallaght Youth Theatre, which the Kilnamanagh community was very receptive to.

“Kilnamanagh at that time was such a fantastic place,” remembered John. “We all wanted good things for the children in the area – people set up summer projects and community groups.

“It seemed that no matter the challenges or the isolation of the area, people were going to make it better.”

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Kilnamanagh’s John Conroy talks about the key to giving back to your community

As Tallaght grew, so did the Conroys’ family, as they raised their children Niall – a doctor who was instrumental in setting up the Kilnamanagh Community First Responder Group; Ciara, Eoin and Mairéad who were all involved in local community groups.

John’s passion for his community has never waned, and he set up Tallaght Toastmasters – new members are always welcome to join by visiting their social media pages – two years ago, and takes part in the Rainbows Programme for children affected by bereavement, separation or divorce in St Kevin’s Family Resource Centre.

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When asked why giving back to his community is so important to him and what it takes to successfully be involved in local groups, John said it’s a combination of give and take that keeps him balanced and has enabled his long-held involvement.

John Conroy 07 1

John Conroy

“I don’t think about how much time I’ve spent being involved in community groups,” he said. “If I feel that I’ve nothing more to offer then I usually step back.

“But I’m lucky that anything I’m involved in is with people who are very professional and good at what they do.”

John added: “I have this thing where it’s not just about giving back – to give back you have to take, you can’t keep giving and giving, because then you’ll burn out.

John Conroy 05 1

“The things you get involved in have to be a learning and growing experience for you. Any generosity or feeding of something has to be fed itself.

“I believe the best community workers get something for themselves out of what they do, and I mean that in a positive way.”

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