M

Maher John

John Maher

 

John Maher was born in Cappamore, County Limerick, but came to London as a young man and settled in Kilburn. He married May, his wife of 46 years who was ten years older than him, in 1960, on St Patrick’s Day, a gesture typical of him. John became close to May’s two children from a previous marriage that had left her widowed. In 1962, they were among the first to move into a new block of flats in Carlton Vale, Kilburn, which was to remain his home until his death.


John, also known as John Lowery, worked on building sites most of his life and was a frequent shop steward on the jobs he worked on. The Kilburn branch secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) for more than 30 years, for a long period he was employed by Camden Council in its direct works department.

 

John Maher was described in a range of ways by those who knew him. Many described him as a “gentle giant”, no doubt because he was about 6ft 6in with hands like shovels yet exuded gentleness. For many, he was “a man of principle”, who “believed the world should be fair”. He was so popular that, after retirement his first pint of Guinness on each visit was free for life at Camden Workers Club in Lyndhurst Hall, where he was also the first to have a pint when the club’s first opened.

 

An Irishman who believed in a united Ireland and a Communist who believed in international solidarity and peace, ‘Big John’ was as likely to be at the annual Bloody Sunday marches as protests against the Vietnam war, nuclear power, the Iraq wars or NHS cuts. He also campaigned over construction workers’ deaths and was one of the first to be on the picket line at the infamous Grunwick strike in Willesden in the 1970s. He worked to set up the Joint Sites Committee in London and was long involved with the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions. John was a stalwart of the Communist Party’s misnamed “Transport Advisory”, which oversaw Party work in the T&G.

 

Vic Heath, a friend for more than 40 years, recalled a topping-out ceremony at a Barbican tower block in the City in 1968: “Normally, the directors climb onto the highest point and have a glass of wine. As usual the flags were laid out the night before. They had a St George’s, the Union Jack and the City of London Corporation flag. But when they hoisted up the flags it was the Irish green, white and gold that went up instead of the Union Jack. There wasn’t much doubt who was behind it. The Irish workers loved it, of course.”

 

John Maher died on July 31th 2011 after a long illness, aged 81.

 

Sources: include GS personal knowledge; Camden New Journal 11th August 2011