This week Paul Bradley catches up with Charlie Devlin, Retired Shop-steward and fisherman, who tells of catching a 210-pound tuna in Lanzarote and his time working in the hospital.
Hi Charlie, how are you? Could you tell us a bit about your history, please?
I started part time working in the 1960s. I worked in the Continental, which was John Devine’s at that time from 1968 to ’70. That became the Downtown in the late 70s. And I left there and worked in the Ballyraine Hotel.
I left school in 1972 and I worked for Harry Russell in Swilly Cabinets, then for Colm Doherty, he built Gartan Avenue. I got a job in St Conal’s from 1974 until 1981. I left there in ’81 and managed a pub.
I was working in the Threeways Motel while I was still in St Conal’s, and fancied having a go at managing a pub myself. So I ran the Chariot Bar beside Dillon’s from ‘81 to ‘83. Then I worked a year with Daly’s Headstones, and started in the General Hospital in 1984. I did 43 years there.
I was the county chairman of the Irish Heart Foundation for two years, and I taught control and restraint to nurses, porters and security in general and psychiatric hospitals.
That’s a long work history…
I was always doing something – I had hobbies on top of that, and I would get involved in charity work. Even in the 80s I remember two years where we ran a 24-hour darts marathon for charity. We did it for MS and Down Syndrome.
I chaired that, I chaired the Letterkenny Darts Association for a while, I was a founding member (and secretary) of the Corravaddy Gun Club. We ran the Oldtown Fair in 2002 and 2003. We ran that as a charity too, myself and Ciaran and Brian Brogan, Kevin Bonner, Aidan Kelly, Paul Shields, a few others – friends from the area. That started from a conversation in the Hideout one night, talking about the Letterkenny Festival that wasn’t happening that year. We talked about doing something ourselves, and I suggested resurrecting the Oldtown Fair.
Was there a lot involved in organising something like that?
There was. Even on the night we spoke about it Con McDaid was behind the bar and said “this’ll never happen, boys”! But we went and organised insurance for the field. And in the end, after expenses, we were able to give about €1,000 each to four local charities.
The next year we did it again, and raised even more money for cancer research, MS, that sort of thing. But we were lucky, we had friends who were musicians too, the Muldowneys and Hugo McLaughlin, all happy to come and play for nothing, and they brought people with them too.
And we had swingboats, sheepdog trials, threshing mills, horseshoe-throwing too. Jacob sheep, with four horns. Traditional things, a lot of things younger people had never even seen.
Did you have time for all your hobbies?
There were a lot of hobbies down the years. As I say, there was darts – I played in the News Of The World tournament – and the gun club. I played in the Northwest Senior Snooker Championships. They’d be mainly the winter sports. The big summer one then would be fishing.
Any spectacular catches?
I’ve caught a good few. Probably my best fish, pound-for-pound, was a 210-pound tuna in Lanzarote. Took me two hours to get him up. I’ve caught shark over 100 lb. I’ve had a few boats too. I even had one go down from under me! It was me, Ciaran and Brian Brogan, Yvonne Brogan and her son, and we were stuck for 25 minutes in the water. We all survived, but it made the papers and everything. Look up the archives!
I imagine you fished on the river locally?
That’s where I learned to fish. Eels and flounder, mainly. I’d go out on a Sunday morning, and fish up and down the river all afternoon. As a young fella, I wasn’t allowed to go too close to the river, and there was a fence between our garden and the water.
But later a few of us would go over to Roulston’s, and Lexie Robb used to cut us a bit of line, and we’d throw the bare line in from the banks, with a washer on it for a weight, and see what we caught. But you have to understand the fish and environment. We’d go up the Swilly and see the tide turning, and salmon feed just on the edge of the tide – so once it passed you, you’d go on up to the next good hole and the fish would follow.
You’re very involved in organised angling too – like the Lough Swilly Junior Angling Club?
When I was still working in the hospital, a lot of people would ask me to come out for a day’s fishing with me. So I got onto the Social Club, and we started hiring boats…and then there were kids coming along as well. So, as I got closer to retirement, I thought a club would be a good thing for the youngsters that were interested.
It’s a lovely thing anyway… but just to see the looks on their faces. It’s important to teach children about the outdoors, and the outdoors skills. But you have to do it safely. We don’t allow children to use knives, and there are always at least two adults with them. They get safety talks, and lessons on safely using the rod and reel.
That started well, and I started a committee. My brother Cornie had fished in the World Championships, and he’s currently the Youth Officer for the Irish team.
After a couple of years we were asked if we would run an All-Ireland – there’d never been one for boats, only shore fishing, so we took it on and our club got 3 out 5 members onto the Irish team. We went to the Worlds in Albufeira the next year, the first junior team to do it. Last year they did it in Cork and we got 4 out of 5 onto the team.
We’re hosting the All-Ireland this year in Rathmullan in September, and the World Championships in August next year, in Rathmullan too. It’s an 8-day event, with different teams coming from different countries.
You seem to have a lot of good contacts around the town.
I do. You develop relationships with people. It works both ways.
Brian Gallagher, for example, in the Station House, has been very helpful with anything we needed from day one, and the fishing group would have its functions here.
And Ciaran Brogan has been more than good over the years too.
I don’t mind organising things. A good committee makes things easier. Our secretary Hughie McLean is also the secretary in other fishing and football clubs, so he’s first class, he knows all about that side of things.
We have a businessman, Paddy Donaghy, as treasurer. I have a current international certificate in Health & Safety myself, and my brother Cornie knows about boats and gear.
Then Martin McGrenra is good at organising a lot of the other things – he kept us going during Covid, organising boats and forms and safety. It’s nice to have a kind of personal connection in your dealings.
You’re retired now – do you miss it?
Not really. I had my time done, and I made sure to ease into it, reducing my hours before retirement. It made the change easier, and I still had the social interaction with colleagues.
I was chief shop steward there too. I always worked with people where I could. You have to work as a team. If I asked for something to be done, I expected it to be done, but at the same time, if someone had a wee problem at home for a bit, I would try to be reasonable and help them out there too. That way you earn respect and have a good team.
Was that not stressful?
At times. Mostly it was just work really…though mind you I could tell you some real stories!
There’ve been a lot of changes in the health service over the last few years, and I think a lot more to come if we want to do it right. I do think nurses, for example, deserve a lot more respect and support, the hard work they do. I had my own experiences in and out of the theatre, and some of the cases they’d be dealing with were very hard.
Was that hard to deal with for you too?
You see a lot of stuff that’s not easy. But you can get accustomed to a lot, and you really have to learn to leave it there. Not just the physical side, but the emotional side too – maybe being up all night talking to parents affected by a bad crash, that sort of thing. That’s hard going, and puts a lot of things in perspective. But if you don’t learn to leave it behind you, it’ll destroy you.
How do you think Letterkenny is doing?
Big changes in the last 30 years. One of the biggest is Lower Main Street, from where we would call Larkin’s Lane. All the old businesses are gone, and the buildings are dilapidated. You could walk down the town now, and wonder what kind of a place you’d wandered into.
There are even a few spots like that appearing above the Square too, and that’s very concerning.
But some of the local councillors have been very helpful too. Over the last few years, with Brian [Gallagher] here, we cleaned the Devlin Walkway here, and strung it with lights. And Ciaran Brogan helped get the old bridge here lit up too. That’s 600 years old now.
We’ve been getting it fixed up too, stones were starting to fall out of it, and I showed Ciaran and be brought it to the Council’s attention. Definitely it’s more stable now.
The railway used to run just behind your house. What do you think of the suggestion that we could bring it back?
Well, you’d have to go through a few local gardens for a start. I wouldn’t have any big objections myself, but there’ll be a lot of work to be done first.
It was even proposed to have a good walkway over the old railway bridge, but for a start the bridge is unsafe. And the tide can come in further than people realise. Then you’d have to open up a lot of people’s gardens, and a lot of those gardens are owned by older people who probably wouldn’t want crowds walking around the backs of their houses at all hours. But theres a plan for a walk from Dunnes’ carpark to Kelly’s out the road.