'Cork is poorer for his passing': Dr Tom Cavanagh to be laid to rest on Saturday

Large crowds are expected for the funeral Mass on Saturday of Fermoy businessman Dr Tom Cavanagh, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 92
'Cork is poorer for his passing': Dr Tom Cavanagh to be laid to rest on Saturday

Dr Tom Cavanagh pictured on the occasion of the opening of the Cavanagh bridge. Picture: Clare Keogh

The streets of Fermoy will be lined with thousands of people tomorrow afternoon as a grateful community pays tribute to a great benefactor who donated millions to charitable causes.

Large crowds are expected for the funeral Mass on Saturday of Fermoy businessman Dr Tom Cavanagh, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 92.

Guards of honour will be provided by community groups, charities and sporting organisations which benefitted from Dr Cavanagh’s generosity, among them the Sanctuary Runners and the International Choir, which is made up of people from all over the world and who now live in Fermoy.

Among the other groups to provide guards of honour will be Fermoy GAA, Fermoy Soccer Club, Fermoy Rowing Club, Blackwater Sub Aqua Club, Fermoy Tidy Towns and Fermoy Golf Club.

As well as being a well-known businessman, in 1994, Dr Cavanagh established the Tomar Trust, which provides support and resources to community groups.

Dr Cavanagh also founded and was the chairman of Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL).

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he had been deeply saddened to hear of Dr Cavanagh’s passing.

“Dr Tom Cavanagh was an extraordinary entrepreneur who has made an outstanding contribution to Cork and to Ireland,” Mr Martin said.

“Tom was a thorough gentleman, a philanthropist who made huge contributions to UCC over his lifetime, particularly to the pharmacy building.

“On the removal of litter from public spaces, he led the national approach to reducing litter on our streets in towns and villages and cities across the country, and that in itself had a huge impact in the country improving its approach to litter,” the Taoiseach said.

“Tom had a tremendous commitment to his country, and Cork and the country are very much the poorer for his passing.” 

Dr Cavanagh graduated from UCC with a commerce degree in 1951, and with a HDip in 1952, and he was awarded a scholarship to study in Italy.

He set up a highly successful motor business in Fermoy, and was well known in the town from early on in his business career as a generous supporter of local charities, clubs and community organisations.


He established Irish Business Against Litter in 1996, and in a statement IBAL said Dr Cavanagh had devised the Anti-Litter League in 2002 as a ‘name and shame” instrument to focus the attention of local authorities on the issue of litter.

“It brought about an immediate effect across the towns surveyed and remains the mainstay of our work today, having been extended to include cities and coastal areas. In 2014, Tom received an award from then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Irish Hotels Federation President Michael Vaughan in recognition of his services to the hospitality sector in Ireland,” the IBAL statement said.

In 2020, Dr Cavanagh became only the third Corkman to be inducted into the Cork Person of the Year Hall of Fame.

At the award ceremony he said “ These awards help to increase standards, encourages people to be the best they can be and be more ambitious. That can only be good for society.” The Lord Mayor of Cork, Councillor Deirdre Forde, remembered a personal friend who she said she would greatly miss.

“Dr Tom Cavanagh made a huge contribution to the fabric of Cork business, social and community life, and he left his mark in no uncertain terms through his generosity and commitment to various causes, and personally, when I was on the governing body of UCC, he very kindly remembered that he went to school with my dad,” Cllr Forde said.

“He went home and brought in a book, which commemorated the choral society in Fermoy and which had photographs of my father that I hadn't seen at the time, and I thought that was a very telling side of the man’s personal generosity.” The Mayor of Co Cork, Councillor Danny Collins, said he had been deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr Cavanagh.

“A successful businessman who ran the largest Ford dealership in the country at one time in Fermoy, Tom took immense interest in the community and was a strong advocate for social equality,” Cllr Collins said.

“A graduate of UCC and accomplished sportsman, Tom continued to promote the importance of education as a platform for a fairer society, put so ably into practice through the establishment of the Tomar Trust which supports charitable, community and voluntary groups.

“As founder of the Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL), Tom continued to be a rallying force across towns and villages,” Cllr Collins said.

“A powerhouse of endeavour, with a passion for people and place, Tom will be forever remembered for making a real on-the-ground impact and leaving a legacy of creating real opportunities which are open to all.” Dr Cavanagh was a champion of education and in 2006 UCC’s pharmacy building was named after Dr Cavanagh and his wife, Marie.

In 2018 a new pedestrian bridge at UCC was named after Dr Cavanagh.

Professor John O'Halloran, President of UCC, said Dr Cavanagh had been one of UCC’s dearest friends and supporters.

“A UCC student, a UCC alumnus, a remarkable UCC national and international athlete, who was named the best sports all-rounder in university on three occasions, a member of the UCC Governing Body, Director of Cork University Foundation, 1996–2007, UCC committee member, supporter, advisor and mentor, a committed philanthropist and friend,” Prof O’Halloran said.

“Deeply proud of his time at UCC, Tom talked fondly of his time here and worked tirelessly for the University for decades.

“He was deeply motivated by a belief in, and a commitment to empowerment through education,” he said.

“The legacy of this commitment can be seen in many of the buildings in UCC but most importantly to him, in the lives of the students he has enabled through the education which he and his wife Marie have supported for decades.

“Tom steadfastly believed that together we can create a better world and he put the building blocks in place to help achieve it,” Prof O’Halloran said.

Don O’Leary, director of the Cork Life Centre, said he was very saddened at the loss of a personal friend, and one of the centre’s most loyal supporters.

“Tom Cavanagh believed in us when no-one did,” Mr O’Leary said.

“He was a friend and mentor and supporter of ours, and he did all in his power to support the Life Centre.

“Dr Tom was hugely supportive of our work in helping vulnerable young people, because he believed with all his heart in our work,” Mr O’Leary said.

“He nursed his beloved wife Marie through her final illness, and he was a kind and loving man, and we in the Life Centre offer our deepest sympathies to Maeve, Conor, Ronan and Fiona and all the family.” Mr O’Leary’s deputy director, Rachel Lucey, concurred.

“Tom believed in and supported our work at Cork Life Centre before most anyone else did,” she said.

“Tom was in equal parts bright, brilliant, sincere and generous. We will miss him.” 

Caitriona Twomey, co-ordinator of Cork Penny Dinners, said Dr Cavanagh had been a solid supporter over the years, and he would be greatly missed by his friends in the charity.

“He was a man of great and gentle faith, who always had a warm smile to match, and he such was a generous and decent soul,” Ms Twomey said.

In a social media post, Watergrasshill GAA Club described Dr Cavanagh as a gentleman and a phenomenally successful businessman with deep local roots.

“He was a highly accomplished athlete, hurler, footballer and basketballer in his youth,” the club wrote.

“He was passionate about community with a deep social conscience … Tom didn’t just talk about the need to strengthening and improving social and community social infrastructure, he established the Tomar Trust in 1994, which has financially supported an enormous amount of local initiatives in the provision of much needed social, community and sporting facilities across Munster.

“Watergrasshill will be shortly commencing work on our flood-lit AstroTurf pitch and this will be become a reality through a very significant financial contribution from the Tomar Trust,” they said.

“When we play on this facility, we will remember Tom and Marie Cavanagh and the very significant support they have given us. May his gentle soul rest in peace.”

David Stanton, Fine Gael TD for Cork East, said he had met Dr Cavanagh, at Dr Cavanagh’s request, when Mr Stanton was a minister of State.

“I met him to discuss the needs of refugees and asylum seekers,” Mr Stanton said.

”He was very interested in community sponsorship and integration, so not only was he very supportive of local issues, his energy and generosity was also focused on people who were forced to leave their own countries and on how they could be helped to make their home in Ireland.”

Cork East Labour TD Seán Sherlock said he had been saddened to hear of Dr Cavanagh’s passing, and extended his sympathies to his family.

“Dr Tom will be remembered for his kindness and his good deeds,” Mr Sherlock said.

James O’Connor, Fianna Fáil TD for Cork East, said Dr Cavanagh had been an absolute gentleman.

“He contributed so much to local communities and society, it will not be forgotten. May he rest in peace,” Mr O’Connor said.

Cork East Sinn Fein TD, Pat Buckley, said Dr Cavanagh had been a humble gentleman who had never sought praise or glory for himself.

“For Tom, helping other people was second nature, and the amount of charitable organisations he supported will never be known, but what he did will never be forgotten,” Mr Buckley said.

Cork North Central Sinn Féin TD, Thomas Gould, said he would join with many communities in Cork today to express his condolences Dr Cavanagh’s family.

“Tom was a huge supporter of so many communities in Cork, particularly educational institutions,” Mr Gould said.

“I know, for the people of Fermoy and the wider Cork community, the contributions Tom has made will be remembered for a long time.” Cork South Central Sinn Féin TD, Donnchadh Ó’Laoghaire, said Dr Cavanagh was a remarkable man who would be missed by so many.

“There are so many communities throughout Cork who were impacted by Tom’s great work throughout his life and this work will continue to be seen for generations to come,” Mr Ó’Laoghaire said.


In Dr Cavanagh’s home town of Fermoy, there were expressions of sadness at the passing of a man who had made immeasurable contributions to the educational, social, cultural and sporting fabric of the area.

In a tweet, Fermoy GAA Club paid tribute to Dr Cavanagh who they said was a “constant supporter”.

Fermoy Fine Gael county councillor Noel McCarthy said the full extent of Dr Cavanagh’s contributions to Fermoy and the surrounding area would never be fully known, but his kindness and generosity would never be forgotten.

“You can see Dr Cavanagh’s legacy all over the town,” Cllr McCarthy said.

“The new block in Fermoy Hospital, the swimming pool, the playground in Glanworth, the walkway in St Colman’s, and all that he has contributed to the Tidy Towns over the years, as numerous other projects, all the sporting clubs and organisations around the town and area, we can never thank Dr Tom and his family enough.” 

Cllr Frank O’Flynn offered his condolences to the Cavanagh family and praised Dr Cavanagh for his philanthropic works.

“His generous contribution to society was significant and many communities benefitted from his assistance,” Cllr Flynn said.


Glanworth farmer and horse-breeder John O’Keeffe said he and Dr Cavanagh had been the last survivors of the Glanworth Junior GAA Football which had won the county final in 1954.

“Tom was nature’s gentleman, an outstanding senior class footballer, and a very friendly, gentle, lovely guy,” Mr O’Keeffe said.

“Tom was playing with Glanworth because his mother was a native of Glanworth.

“He was senior class, but he hadn’t played with Fermoy that year, so he was eligible to play with Glanworth when Fermoy was out of the championship,” Mr O’Keeffe said.

“He went on to play for Cork after that, and he was always a genuine, nice, decent man, who did a lot of great work, and who very quietly helped an awful lot of people.” 

Paul Kavanagh, project manager with Fermoy Tidy Towns, and regatta secretary with Fermoy Rowing Club, said Dr Cavanagh had donated millions of euro to charities, community organisations and sports clubs over the years.

“He didn’t just give away money, though, he just didn’t say ‘Oh, there you go, there’s a cheque’,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“Instead, he’d say ‘What are you doing? I’ll look after you, but how much are you putting up? What are you going to do?

“He would always say ‘I won’t let you down, but you must put in the effort yourself too’,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“He wasn’t a charity, but if you wanted to know what a philanthropist was, all you had to do was look to Tom.” 

Dr Cavanagh had maintained a keen interest in Fermoy Tidy Towns to the very end, Mr Kavanagh said.

“He would often ring, and when he spoke, you listened to him,” he recalled.

“He said ‘Ye’re doing great work in the town and be sure and keep it up’. 

Even if he wasn’t able to make the call himself, I’d often get a message of encouragement and a suggestion of where in the town could use a bit of work.” 

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