Waterside man Charlie McDaid is probably best known for his exploits as a yarnspinner and his time on the local amateur theatre circuit. But then there’s his time as a referee and his professional background in care.
The father-of three has always thrown himself head first into the community around him and has very little time for people who say there’s nothing to do.
The charming storyteller has tread many a board locally and still enjoys nothing more than a good yarn.
His own story is a tale of growing up in a Derry which is now firmly consigned to the history books. Fresh faced as he approaches his 72nd birthday, it’s hard to believe that Charlie comes from a generation where the journey to school consisted of a one mile walk just to get the bus.
He’s full of admiration for his parents James and Teresa, who started off their lives together with a young family in a one room flat in Rossville Street. He recently heard them described by a relative as dynamic and ambitious, and people who worked incredibly hard to give their family a decent start in life. He’s hugely proud of how they did their best during very hard times.
Born on 10 July 1940, Charlie spent his first months in the Rossville Street flat.
From there, his parents moved the family to a rented farmhouse at Ardlough before moving back to the cityside, where they lived in Anne Street near Abbey Street.
“I have very happy memories of Anne Street, but I always went to school in the Waterside,” Charlie explains.
“I recall very vividly that it was one old penny on the bus from William Street to the Waterside but it was only a halfpenny if you travelled from the Diamond. So I used to do that because it meant you could buy sweets with the money that was left over!”
Not one for self-praise, Charlie credits himself with being reasonably good at school. He attended Waterside Boys before moving on to what was then known as Derry Tech, a decision which, he confesses, was prompted by his love of soccer.
“I had a choice between there and the Christian Brothers but I was slightly better at soccer than I was at Gaelic so I opted for the tech.”
While continuing his education as a young boy, Charlie, like many of contemporaries, took on part-time work. He was a messenger boy at the Magnet Store on Old Strabane Road.
“I did it to enhance the family income,” he says. “I weighed potatoes, flour and paraffin and was out around the country in a van.”
In his spare time, Charlie frequented the the Waterside Boys’ Club on Spencer Road taking part in boxing, football, quizzes and annual camps. He’s flabbergasted by the notion that young people, in 2012, can complain about being bored.
“We didn’t even know the meaning of the word ‘bored’ when we were growing up,” he says.
“If you came in and said that you were bored you would have quickly been found something to do. Nowadays there are so many clubs crying out for members like cycling, boxing, bowling, hockey and camogie. I just can’t understand people who say there’s nothing to do.
“When I hear of young people saying they’re bored I just think it shows a real lack of imagination. They’re texting one another saying ‘let’s have a fight.’ Why can’t they text one another and say ‘let’s have a ceili at the crossroads’ or ‘let’s start a barbershop quartet’?”
Charlie did anything but lie idle during his teenage years and represented his county at athletics. At seventeen, he left the tech and got a job in the BSR Factory where he worked for a short period before going on to train as a nurse.
“Male nurses didn’t get a great press in those days, but it was something I really enjoyed,” he says.
“I went off to a sanitorium in Southmims near Hertfordshire and worked at treating people with TB before doing my general training in Hackney.
“In those days we did our training on the wards, nowadays it’s done in universities. I often think it was better then because we learned at the coal face, on the wards.”
After his spell in England, Charlie returned to Derry in 1964 and did his psychiatric training in Gransha Hospital. He moved to Stradreagh Hospital in 1969 to take up a post as a charge nurse.
It was during his time in Stradreagh that Charlie met Celine, his wife of 38 years. Celine, a health professional herself, had been on a working visit to Stradreagh when the pair first met. They’ve since gone on to have three children, Cahir, Tessa and Joanne.
With Charlie’s background in special care and Celine’s health background, in 1987 the couple decided to use their combined knowledge and entered into care in the community.
“We set up two residential homes from very small beginnings,” says Charlie.
“We went from three to seven to thirteen beds and eventually two units with 13 beds in each caring for 26 people with learning disabilities.”
Twenty five years later and the Charline operations (named after Charlie and Celine) are both established and successful residential care homes catering for adults with learning disabilities.
“Our service runs 24 hours a day, 168 hours a week, 365 days a year. Between the two of us, we have 100 years of caring experience!” says Charlie.
Despite a busy working life, Charlie has managed to carry on the theme of never getting bored into his spare time. For over 20 years he was a regular fixture on local pitches as a referee in the Saturday Morning League and the North West League.
Alongside his time on the soccer pitch, the affable Waterside man was an enthusiastic participant in local theatre.
“A great opportunity presented itself to me in 1971 to be part of the 71 players with Fr. Daly, as he was then. I was part of that group for a number of years. I took part in concerts, revues and pantomimes, and I was part of the Port Pageant which entertained Mary Robinson in the Guildhall Square during her visit to Derry,” he says.
In recent years Charlie has done his yarnspinning on request and even staged his own one man show in Derry’s Playhouse.
“I still enjoy hearing a good yarn,” he says.
And, with that, he made his way to Feis Dhoire Cholmcille to cast his eye over some of the next generation of storytellers . . .