Monday 14 October 2019

Obituary: Liam Devally

Popular singer and TV host became a respected lawyer, writes Liam Collins

CAREER SHIFT: Liam Devally
CAREER SHIFT: Liam Devally

Liam Devally, who died in Dublin last week at the age of 85, was a singer, quiz show host and broadcaster who switched in mid-life to become a barrister and later a judge of the Circuit Court, where he adopted a no-nonsense approach to both litigants and members of his own profession.

A highlight of his career came in 1973 when he presented The Eurovision Song Contest for Telefis Eireann from the Nouveau Theatre, Luxembourg, with producer Roisin Lorigan. It had little of the camp razzmatazz that would later characterise the event, and the Irish entry, Do I Dream, sung by Maxi was voted into 10th place.

Liam Devally was born in Cahir, Co Tipperary, in 1933 but moved to Mullingar, Co Westmeath, while quite young when his father, a garda, was transferred there. He obtained a scholarship to St Enda's College, Galway, where he became a fluent Gaelic speaker and began training as a national school teacher before decamping briefly to the ESB and the Dublin Port & Docks Board.

His singing career began in Mullingar where he achieved considerable success as a boy soprano. He won a gold medal at the 1947 Feis Ceoil and a silver medal in 1954, singing My Lagan Love, a song which he later recorded for an album, Songs of the Emerald Isle. The composer Sean O Riada also wrote a number of songs in Irish for him.

Devally also performed and travelled extensively in the United States and Canada with the Irish Festival Singers, appearing on one occasion on the hit American television programme The Ed Sullivan Show.

He had joined the national broadcasting station in 1953 at the age of 20, becoming one of the station's youngest continuity announcers, whose duty it was to link radio programmes and read the news.

He then moved on to the light entertainment department where he worked as a presenter and administrator. He succeeded Donagh MacDonagh as presenter of Cross Country Quiz, which started in 1962 and was described as "pretty awful" by one early television reviewer.

However, it was extremely popular in a more innocent era with questions set by Peter Murphy and presented by Devally from 1969 to 1973.

He also presented an Irish music and dance show with co-host Kathleen Watkins. He and his wife, Mairead - who was a more senior figure than him in RTE - married when he was 23, and they settled in Blackrock, Dublin, where they lived for much of the rest of their lives.

In the mid-1970s, Devally began studying at the King's Inns while still working in Montrose. After becoming a barrister, he devilled with Harry Hill, one of the best known advocates of that era, and later practised in personal injury claims.

When the need arose, he also prosecuted cases in Irish because of his command of Gaelic and its various dialects.

He was appointed a judge of the Circuit Court in 1991.

Shortly after his retirement, he told Marian Finucane in an interview: "Looking back on all the cases I have done, both as judge and barrister, I do believe that the most accurate assessment I can give is this - I believed that a pretty high percentage of the answers given have been deliberate lies."

However, he was even-handed in his criticism and while still on the bench, launched a broadside against barristers who clogged up the court lists by hoarding more cases than they could cope with. "Something will have to be done about the jockeys who put their names down to ride five horses in the same race," he declared.

Devally was also a member of the Independent Radio & Television Commission (IRTC) appointed by Communications Minister Ray Burke, which awarded the first commercial broadcasting licence in the State to Century Radio.

He was later critical of the £1m (€1.2m) a year fee charged by RTE to broadcast the station through its transmission network.

In the late 1960s, Devally had bought a house in Inish Ni, near Roundstone, Co Galway, where he and his family were regular visitors, and he became a valued member of the community, often bringing singers, actors and RTE personalities to raise funds for local causes.

He was also particularly proud of his involvement with The Strollers, becoming president of the group of former choristers who sang for charitable causes. Following his retirement, he was a well-known figure around Blackrock either walking or accompanying his wife, who was confined to a wheelchair in later life.

Liam Devally died last Monday and was buried in Kilmacanogue Cemetery on Thursday.

Sunday Independent

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