First jobs, it seems, are a bit like first loves if David Walsh is anything to go by as, after a career that has seen him cover some of the biggest sporting events in the world for the Irish Press, Sunday Tribune, Sunday Independent and the Sunday Times, it is David’s two years with the Leitrim Observer that he remembers the most fondly.
“The two years I spent in Leitrim were two of the happiest of my life,” says David of his time in Leitrim, “I loved the Observer, I loved Leitrim people. It seems like I was there for ten years but I was only there for two years, such an intense experience.
“If somebody asked me what were the happiest years of my journalistic life, well I’d say the Observer were as happy as any years I’ve had. I just remember the whole time with fondness. Of course you were young, I was enthusiastic, I wanted to do everything and I just found the people I’ve met to be the most fantastic people I’ve met anywhere.
“I’ve never met people as nice no matter where I’ve lived subsequently in my life, just a great time in my life” in what is as glowing a reference as Leitrim Tourism could ever hope to get!
But it is more than just platitudes as David tells me he came very close to settling down in the county – “I went through a phase in my second year with the Observer thinking I wanted to settle down in Leitrim, make my life in Leitrim and continue working with the Observer because I loved it so much.
“My fiancée Mary, a Westmeath woman, she loved Leitrim as well and we had more or less agreed to buy a site down near Lough Allen, we were going to build a house. I had applied for a couple of jobs in Dublin with the nationals because I kind of had this desire I wanted to be a sports reporter.
“In the Observer, I could do sport but eventually, this guy came from Dublin and said I want you to join the Irish Press. Gregory Dunne, who was then the editor of the Observer, in fairness to him, made me a fantastic offer to stay with the Observer.
“I would have been on a much better salary than I would have been with the Irish Press, much better conditions but I just wanted to do sport full-time, that had been my dream and that basically took me away from Leitrim.”
You get the sense that some small sliver of regret is still there, particularly when he learns that I’ve been with the Observer for 23 years – “Because I live in England now, it is very hard to get back to Ireland let alone get back to Leitrim but I would love to go back and spend a holiday there, go around and see a lot of the people I knew and how they are doing.
“They were two fantastic years because I got to cover such a range of things. I got to do reviews of the local amateur drama and I, who hadn’t a clue about amateur drama, would write as if I did. You did the Council meetings, I wrote about anything and everything, some really great stories.”
Telling Walsh that he is fondly remembered in Leitrim, particularly in Aughawillan, David makes a confession that is perhaps no surprise – “All the people in Ballinamore would have said when I was in Leitrim that I was a complete Aughawillan-ite but that was true, I was an Aughawillan-ite, I was biased in their favour, I’m not making any secret of it.
“I loved Aughawillan because they had a real grudge about Ballinamore, which was brilliant. This small virtually townsland would take on the big town and beat them and every time they beat them, I celebrated in my heart, my heart leaped every time they did. I used to love when Aughawillan won.”
Leitrim also provided David with a story of sporting success – “I joined on Easter Tuesday, 1978 and it felt like it was two days later, I got a phone call from John Dwyer who worked in the Council asking me to play in a County Final in hurling for St. Mary’s.
“First he said, would you play in a County final on Sunday and I said in what sport and he said hurling. I said I’m sorry to disappoint you but I’ve never played hurling in my life. And he said are you David Walsh from Kilkenny? I am and he said, you’ll do us.
“I was marked by Sean Mulvey from Allen Gaels and Sean never gave me a shot of the ball. I think, but I could be wrong in this, St. Mary’s won the match and I got a Leitrim Senior County Hurling medal and I think the score might have been 3-1 to 1-3 but I did actually score the point.
“It was my only claim to fame as a sports man but I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the Connacht Championship campaign and the fear that we might end up playing Castlegar with seven Connolly brothers!”