The verdict on the late Derek Davis as a man you don’t meet every day was one of general agreement after he called into Skevenas Bar on Main Street here in Castleisland one evening in May 2002. I’m sure it was Denis Nolan who said to him “You’re just like a man that walked in off the street; ” and that was a massive, local compliment. Derek laughed and replied: “Thanks – that’s exactly what I did anyway.” He and his RTÉ Radio One producer, John McMahon were on a punishing schedule of country-wide, one evening stands in various towns as they took the political temperature of the nation for the upcoming general election of that summer.
I had been on The Kerryman team which took an extensive house-to-house poll throughout North Kerry on the previous weeks. The paper ran stories based on the polls which showed the huge swing of support for Sinn Féin’s Martin Ferris. This was the item McMahon and the late Mr. Davis wished to pursue and their colleague Peter Woods had lined me up to talk to him on his arrival. We did our piece and settled in to a couple of pints with the company at the bar. Derek Davis was a consummate entertainer and he regaled us with stories of doing ‘Carnival Queen’ compere up and down the country and the haggling over the fee and the general carry-on.
On the darker side of the good old days in Ireland: he also told us of a scare he got one night in a town not too far from here. His fee, he admitted was hefty at the time but the going rate. He was paid without a quibble and that in itself put him on edge and on guard. When his gig was all done he said his farewells and made his way to his car only to find his way blocked by a couple of strapping lads. He secured his wad and abandoned any notion of fancy boxing and was lucky enough to land a well aimed kick at one and a punch at the other and to carry his legs out of the ‘bizarre’ field.
That evening in Skevenas, which is 13 years ago almost to the day, he crossed the floor and introduced himself to ‘The Master’ (Michael O’Donohoe) who was in his usual seat inside the front window. The retired teacher assured him there was no need for introductions and The Master told him nearly more that he knew about himself.
Earlier in his life he played at The Astor Ballroom as ‘Mean Tom’ with a band which toured the country at the time. The notion of a band which parodied ‘Big Tom’ was really snapped up by RTÉ TV at the time and the fame carried it for a season or two. The late Derek Davis was 67 and born in Co. Down and lived in Dublin. He will be best remembered for his television shows: Live at 3 – which he co-presented with Thelma Mansfield and Davis at Large.
He is widely credited by close colleagues as a serious and highly intelligent journalist in spite of the image of himself he put out there. To the survivors of the small band of people he met that evening in Skevenas he will remain ‘Just like a man that walked in off the street.’ May God be good to him.