‘A TRUE GENTLEMAN’: Tributes following death of Birmingham Irish legend John Fitzgerald

‘A TRUE GENTLEMAN’: Tributes following death of Birmingham Irish legend John Fitzgerald

TRIBUTES have been paid following the death of a much-loved member of the Irish community in Birmingham.

Former music promoter and owner of the popular Irish store Minstrel Music, John Fitzgerald has died it has been confirmed.

John Fitzgerald (Pic: Brendan Farrell/The Irish Post)

The father-of-seven was a much-loved figure within the Irish community in Birmingham, where he ran his store – described by many as an Aladdin’s cave for all things Irish - for more than 40 years, before he closed it in 2020.

The businessman, who was a keen supporter of local charities, also dabbled in numerous other ventures over his many years in the city – including a lengthy career as a music promoter and a stint as the lead singer of the 1970s band The Castaways.

Hailing from Gobbinstown in Co. Wexford, Mr Fitzgerald came to England in 1957.

John Fitzgerald with showband friends Norah Larkin, Willie Carthy and Paddy Keane (Pic: The Irish Post)

He quickly made a name for himself on the music circuit as the promoter and manager of many large Irish acts, including long-term friend Brendan Shine.

The charismatic Irishman continued to organise concerts and festivals in and around Birmingham over many years, including the Midlands Irish Festival and the Minstrel Music Charity Nights.

But his enduring success was his store, which was famed for supplying the best of Irish trinkets, music, giftware and essentials – such as Irish dancing shoes and GAA jerseys.

Mr Fitzgerald first opened the shop at a venue in Birmingham’s Sparkbrook in 1979 before relocating to the Birmingham Irish Centre in Digbeth – where it remained until the Irish Centre relocated in 2020.

John and Margaret Fitzgerald (Pic: Chris Egan/The Irish Post)

Mr Fitzgerald took that opportunity to retire and spend more time with his beloved wife Margaret and their family.

A long-term friend to and supporter of The Irish Post, Mr Ftizgerald and his wife were honoured in 2020 at the Irish Post St Patrick's Breakfast in Birmingham for their their long-standing contribution to the Irish community in the city.

Through Minstrel Music he came across Irish people from all over Britain who often made the trip especially to purchase his rare and unique items.

Many of those former customers, and those who knew Mr Fitzgerald through his music career, have paid tribute today following his death.

Ita McKenna described him as a “wonderful man who brought great Irish bands and events to Birmingham over the years”.

“His shop was treasure trove of Irish goods that people from all over the country came to, looking for football jerseys, hurling sticks, dancing shoes, socks, Irish crystal and jewellery," she added.

“I never knew him not to donate one these prized items to any of us trying to raise funds for different good causes.”

Angela McGhee said he was “a gentle man, knowledgeable, wise and kind, a big part of the Irish Centre culture at Digbeth”.

Brendan Shine pictured with long-term friend John Fitzgerald and Michael English (Pic: Chris Egan/The Irish Post)

Pete Bipsham, of the Birmingham Irish Folk band Drowsie Maggie, said Mr Fitzgerald was a “true gentleman with time for everyone”.

He added: “He was very supportive of Irish music and dance and I'll always be grateful for the huge help he gave to Drowsy Maggie in our early days.”

Local radio presenter Bob Brolly has also paid tribute.

“I am so proud to say that John was a friend for many years, I have so many wonderful memories, of the times we drank tea and chatted for hours and hours sometimes out the back of Minstrel Music based in the Irish Centre in Digbeth,” he said in a statement.

“He loved to be involved in all things Irish, he loved his devoted wife Margaret and family,” he added.

“He's already in heaven helping God to sort out the Irish music. RIP my pal John one of the greatest Irish men I will ever know.”

Funeral details have yet to be announced.