Maurice Devenney may only be in the job a few weeks but he knows more than most newly appointed mayors what the role entails.
Maurice was deputy mayor of Derry for two years but when it was the DUP’s turn to put a councillor forward he was number one on their list.
“Being mayor is just like a step-up from being deputy mayor,” says Maurice. “I love getting out and meeting people all over the city. There are some amazing people who work in the communities all over the city and I regard it as a privilege to meet with them as mayor of the city.”
Originally from Moneyhaughley near Newtoncunningham in Donegal, Maurice was elected as a member of Derry City Council in 2005 and has worked tirelessly for constituents living in the rural areas of Derry.
Maurice was born and reared in the small town land of Moneyhaughley in 1958. He is the oldest of five children and his father, Jim, is a farmer and his mother, Sally, a housewife.
“The place I grew up was very small,” explains Maurice. “There would have been between 12 or 15 houses around us so our playground was the fields of Donegal - it was a great place to grow up.”
Maurice’s father and younger brother still run the farm and Maurice remembers long summers helping his father to harvest his crops.
“My father was a cereal and potato farmer. We would have harvested between 250-300 acres of potatoes and cereal crops every year - I suppose looking back now, working on a farm with my father really taught me the importance of hard work.”
Maurice’s maternal grandparents passed away when his mother was very young and she was left to raise the rest of the family. The family farm had two bedrooms and Maurice, his parents and his brother and sisters shared the home with Maurice’s mother’s two brothers.
“It was great sharing the house with so many people. You had a real sense of family back then and although we lived in very basic of conditions we were all very happy.”
Maurice attended Belleighan National School before moving on to Royal and Prior Comprehensive in Raphoe.
“Whilst I enjoyed school I had my responsibilities on the family farm. I would have had to take days off at a time to help my father bring in the crops.”
The family farm required every spare pair of hands it could get and when Maurice was 15 years-old he left school and went to work on the farm. Maurice worked the land with his father and brother for years before he and his wife endured a serious road traffic accident 13 years ago. As a result of injuries sustained in the accident Maurice was forced to retire from farming and after careful consideration he decided that he wanted to pursue a career in politics.
Although the world of agriculture was a big part of Maurice’s life he had an early introduction to politics through his grandfather, Moses Devenney, when he was a young boy.
“My grandfather Moses was a big influence on me politically. When I was very young I used to listen to him talking about the politics of Northern Ireland - he was years ahead of his time as everything he predicted would happen came to be.
“In terms of politics my grandfather was a big fan of Ian Paisley, or as he called him the ‘Big Man’.”
When Maurice was very young he accompanied his grandfather and father to the Balmoral Show in Belfast. It was to be one of his most treasured as, in amongst the cattle and crops, he was to run into the ‘Big Man’.
“The Balmoral Show was the number one agricultural show so we set off in the car one sunny summer morning. My grandfather was a farmer too and he always had an interest in flowers and shrubs. He told me that he wanted to spend the day wandering around looking at flowers but he told me that I was to walk around the Balmoral Show and keep an eye out for the ‘Big Man’.”
After a few hours Maurice spotted Ian Paisley and raced back to his grandfather.
“I ran like the wind and told my grandfather where the ‘Big Man’ was. He was delighted because he got to meet him and have a chat with him - it was a great day.”
Fellow DUP member and Foyle MLA Willie Hay introduced Maurice to the party and in 2005 he was elected to council.
“I met Willie Hay and after talking with him he convinced me to join the party. I stood for election in 1997 but I was unsuccessful but thankfully I was elected in 2005. I really enjoy working as a local councillor - I operate an open door policy and I am here for everyone.
“I think it’s important that as a rural councillor I have and understanding of what issues affect people and what better experience is there than being brought up on a farm?.”
Maurice met his wife Martha (nee Bates) at a dance in Raphoe when he was a young man. The couple wed in the late 1970s and moved to Drumahoe soon after. They have two children; a son called Maurice Junior and daughter called Sarah.
“It’s been a a great year for me because I became mayor, my son and his wife has a baby boy recently and my daughter is getting married in September - I am a very lucky man indeed.”
Asked if he thinks Derry has improved Maurice said that the speed at which the city has progressed sometimes amazes him.
“There’s a real buzz about the city at the minute - it’s a good place to be. Since becoming mayor and even as deputy mayor I would meet with visitors to the city on a regular basis. They would always tell me how welcoming the people of the city are and how much they enjoy coming here.
“I also think that it’s fantastic that we can all work together without taking for granted one another’s political aspirations. The city is moving in the right direction and I just hope that at the end of my year as mayor I will be remembered as a mayor who represented every person from every background.”
In keeping with his cultural background Maurice is an active member of the Apprentice Boys, the Loyal Orange Lodge and the Royal Black. When Maurice is not busying himself with constituency work or with his duties as mayor he likes to play the pipes or watch his beloved Manchester United.
“My involvement with the Apprentice Boys, the Orange Lodge and the Royal Black is something that is very close to my heart,” admits Maurice.
“I only started playing the Scottish bagpipes when my son started playing them. I must have been 29 at the time but it’s really good fun. I played the pipes at Willie Hay’s wedding last year - it was a great day.”
He added: “This city has some amazing pipe bands, namely the Colmcille Pipe Band and the Bready Ulster Scots Pipe Band - they really are brilliant.
“When I was younger I was involved with the Manorcunningham Pipe Band and I’m pleased to say that they won the All-Ireland title two years in a row.”
He added: “I’m a Manchester United for my sins and I was delighted to see the team win the league last season. We just scraped it by the skin of our teeth but I can’t wait for the start of the new season.”
The Mayor of Derry’s daily schedule would be enough to make even the most energetic person reach for a energy drink or a strong cup of coffee. Despite the long hours Maurice regards the role as an “unbelievable honour” and believes that if his grandfather Moses were still alive he would be very proud of his grandson.
“I’ve no doubt that my grandfather would be very proud of what I’ve achieved - he would have been so happy.
“As mayor you work seven days a week and sometimes you don’t get home until late at night but it’s all worth it - I love what I do. It’s a blessing to be doing something I love and meeting new people every day is very exciting. When I was made mayor I saw it as an unbelievable honour and I am going to work very hard to make sure that the next 12 months are successful.”