Declan Varley is Group Editor for the Galway advertiser and is also the author of five works of fiction – Kittyland, which described his life as a student in the then RTC, Sure It Could Happen, The Elephant’s Graveyard, Nightmusic, and The Confession of Peadar Gibbons.
What is your background, and where did you go to school/college?
I am originally from Ballinrobe in Co. Mayo. I went to school in Ballinrobe and then to the Regional Technical College (as it was known then) in Galway, and studied Marketing. I always wanted to do Journalism but at the time there were no courses except for one in Dublin which was very difficult to get into. Marketing and Journalism are very similar because Marketing is trying to tell a story about something. I was three years in college and received a Degree in Business.
Where did your love of journalism stem from?
I always had an interest in writing and as a young child I was always putting books together. When I was in my late teens, I started a local parish magazine with some friends, and to make a few pounds, we sold it after Mass on a Saturday night. My mother used to love writing short stories also, and my father was a great story teller so it was hard to miss the Journalism bug. I love the idea of telling stories especially telling stories about things that matter to people. I have been a journalist for 31/32 years fulltime, the buzz isn’t being editor it’s going out to cover matches and putting it in the paper.
You already have five books and three plays out; have you intentions of writing anymore?
I am writing all the time. I have 7 books out and also have several other books published under different names. It’s good to see how they are doing, and often do better than the books written under my own name. The plays I wrote were all performed in Carnmore for the local drama group Compántas Lir and all were light-hearted and funny. I am currently working on a collection of short stores. I am also writing a book on Mayo football which hopefully will be published next Autumn.
In 2017 you did an article on Galway winning the All–Ireland along with the iconic picture of Micheál Donoghue and his dad who was holding the Liam McCarty cup in Ballinasloe. Can you tell me about that experience?
The best pictures in any media are the pictures on the radio. Pictures tell great stories, and the best pictures capture all emotions, especially pictures after matches, where people are full of emotion. That picture was very emotional, a father and son having a great moment after winning something that everyone wanted to win. There is such raw emotion from pictures like that. It also showed the human side to the Manager.
The same year you spoke at the Seosaimh Uí Ógartaigh awards. Can you explain what this is?
Seosaimh Uí Ógartaigh was a businessman in Galway about 40 years ago. He was responsible for the Chamber of Commerce. His son is currently President of University of Galway. Seosaimh loved the Irish Language, and this Award is presented every year to honour businesses that go out of their way to promote the Irish language in their business. The Award is sponsored by the Galway Advertiser and the aim is to maintain the Irish Language in Galway.
You were named in Melbourne as a winner of the 2016 ISWNE Golden Dozen editorial awards. Can you explain what this award is?
As Editor of the Galway Advertiser, I select a topic that people can relate to every week. There is a group called the International Society of Weekly Newspaper, and they select the best 12 editorials awards known as the 12 Golden Dozen. I have won this award on a number of occasions. I start my editorial for the Advertiser on a Wednesday evening 10 minutes before the paper goes to print.
The Galway Advertiser marked its 50th Anniversary in 2020. What is the success of the newspaper?
The Advertiser was initially set up by Ronnie O’Gorman 52 years ago, and it’s still going strong. People love the idea of a free newspaper and the fact that it is dropped into their letter boxes every Thursday, and we guarantee circulation every week. The Newspaper reaches everybody, it doesn’t matter who they are. The Advertiser started off in 1970 printing 7000 copies and in 2022 we print 55,000 copies and 40,000 online copies. We also have 2 other papers, the Athlone and Mayo Advertisers. We are also situated in the centre of town; we hope that people respond to advertisements in the papers and buy local.
You also did a Masters in Writing in University of Galway. Did you enjoy being back studying again?
I enjoyed back studying again but it is a different experience when it was all online lectures. I would have loved the experience of attending lectures but it was a very good course about writing, and I learnt a lot and it has made me a better writer. The advantages I suppose were I wasn’t spending hours in traffic travelling to and from college, so I was able to study and continue writing and doing the newspaper also.
How did you cope with Covid? It must have been difficult every week writing in the Galway Advertiser and trying to keep people’s spirits up.
Yes, this was a difficult time for everybody. The Advertiser covers so many topics and everything just stopped. Almost immediately all of our 50 staff were working from home. We were faced with the dilemma of what we could do to keep the paper going. Local businesses were in danger of closing so we decided to tell their stories in the Advertiser. People loved being asked and we filled the paper with their stories. This kept the paper going over that period. We all realised how important it is to support local shops and businesses as in the depth of Covid it was the local communities and sports clubs that helped the elderly and vulnerable in their communities.
Are you an optimistic person in life?
I am an optimistic type of person – glass half-full person – and I aim to bring that across in the newspaper. I aim to get the most out of life and like to challenge myself. I think it is so important to push yourself to do things that you might not be comfortable with. I always like to encourage people and I try to promote Galway as much as I can.
What are your pastimes and plans for the future?
My pastime is writing. When I go for a break into town, I always bring my laptop and do my private writing. I also like walking, swimming and take time also to follow local clubs and national and international teams I plan to keep going doing what I love. I am launching a new look for the Advertiser, and change the stories I am writing to try and entice the younger generation into reading the paper, and try and keeping the paper going as long as I can, in an ever-changing world where papers are taken over by online reading.