Terry Leyden Community Hero December 2017

Community Hero

Old family photograph with Terry as young child in Sligo

Our Finn Valley Centre Community Hero for this month is no stranger to the world of soccer in the North West and indeed at a national level. Originally from Old Market Street Sligo, Terry Leyden was working in Sligo General Hospital after having completed a six year stint in the army.  During this time he continued in the Army Reserve and was called up to serve again in 1969 shortly after the troubles began in Northern Ireland.  At the age of 25, Terry was posted to Camp Arrow on the Ramelton Road, Letterkenny and spent one and a half years there.  During this time the battalion he was in helped out locals and even gathered a field of potatoes one day for a farmer living nearby. Their main responsibility was to patrol the border and take those coming from Northern Ireland who were seeking refuge to Finner Camp for their safety.  After this time he became a full time soldier again when in 1971 he joined the 24th Battalion as a driver in the FCA Cadre in Milford where he was stationed for a year. Following this he was posted to Rockhill in Letterkenny where he remained until his retirement on 23rd Nov 2004.  Over the time of his career he went through the ranks of private, corporal, sergeant, to Company Quartermaster Sergeant of A Company.

Prior to joining the army he had only every been as far as Bundoran and his travels were to broaden his outlook and were to serve as an eye opener in life, giving him experiences that he never would have had otherwise.

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Terry with some of his comrades in Camp Shamrock

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A rare day off in the Holy Land

He made many trips on overseas duty and prior to his move to Donegal he was stationed in a town called Kolwezi in the Congo in 1963.  At time all his wages were sent home and if he needed money he would have to write home to his mother for it.  In the present day with electronic communications and financial exchange at our fingertips it’s difficult to imagine that Terry would have to wait about six weeks for the money to reach him. Needless to say the Congo was a very tough environment and it was difficult to get used to the stifling heat with the only preparation being done in Athlone and

Dublin prior to the journey, but he has very fond memories of the village where he was stationed and the people of the area.  That said, as a unit, Terry and his colleagues experienced some very tough scenarios during their time there and as young men they had to grow up very quickly.

No stranger to travel he was again posted to overseas duty to Cyprus on two occasions in 1965 and 1966 and to the Lebanon in 1984 and 1996.  On one of his Lebanon tours his battalion, the 79th were to replace the 78th battalion who were going home and due to heavy shelling both battalions were under fire for two weeks and spent most of that time in a bunker under heavy fire.


On one of his postings while on off duty time, he had an opportunity to visit the Holy Land and he jokes that the trip cost him just £28 and was an amazing experience as he had an opportunity to see many of the sights that visitors wouldn’t see today.

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Terry with his wife, family and sister

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His army posting to Donegal was to change the course of his life in more ways than one when he met his wife Vonnie Bonner from Drumkeen in the Fiesta Ballroom in 1970. They were married the following year in 1971 and set up home in Kilmacrennan for a year before moving to Ballaghaderg, Letterkenny where they lived for approximately 20 years. After this time they moved to Aughygault Drumkeen where they now live.  The couple have three children; Derek who is living in Greece, Paul who is at home and Sharon who lives in Ballybofey.  They are the proud grandparents of four grandchildren, their daughter Sharon who has Ella and Ben and Derek’s two children, Tara and Paris.  The couple enjoy travel when they get the opportunity and have visited Australia and America on several occasions.


Community HeroTerry’s first involvement in community was through football as chairman of the Rockhill United football team which started in early 1971 and then he became involved in the committee of the Donegal league in the early 70’s as the area representative.

Alongside the late Tom McGinty R.I.P. he formed the Illistrin Underage Football Club and entered a team in the schoolboy league which is still going strong today.  To fundraise for the team they held a card drive every Saturday night during the winter in Illistrin School.  Mr McGinley, the principal at the time, now retired, and Doreen Sheridan now vice principal were very helpful to them as they gave them the use of the school to hold the card drives. The team also played in the original Letterkenny and District Schoolboy league now known as the Donegal Schoolboys League.  This was the precursor to the development of the a more structured system of playing football and the organisation of teams as well as the development of many other sports such as athletics in the Illistrin area.

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The 1st committee of the Donegal League

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One of the first meetings of the Donegal Women’s Soccer League

Soccer Development

Forty-six years later Terry is still very much involved in the development of soccer in the county and is the current registration and disciplinary secretary for the Donegal League.  Alongside that he is also involved in the Donegal Schoolboys and Donegal Women’s league as their disciplinary secretary.  He has been a disciplinary secretary since 1985 to the present day and has always been involved in some shape or form since then.  His work involves talking to young people about how to behave on the pitch and advising clubs on discipline.  As if that weren’t enough he is also the chairman of the youth league, and serves as a council member on the Ulster Football Association, is a member of the development committee of the FAI and area representative for the  Donegal local leagues on the FAI Junior Council.  Being involved on so many committees in a voluntary capacity means he is constantly attending meetings and involved in projects such as competitions and schools soccer programmes which run over the summer.  His work takes him to Dublin once per month for meetings Community Heroas well as FAI Junior Council meetings which take place every three months.  When he is in Donegal he spends most days in the complex in Ballyare overseeing the ongoing day to day activities of the fifty-one team league and also attends monthly meetings there as part of the management structure within the league.  The administration work in relation to all the committees and disciplinary secretary work is left to when he actually gets home.

Terry has also travelled with the FAI to Serbia and Slovenia as part of the Irish delegation with the Irish U19 team alongside Paul Doolin and Sean McCafferty, the two men in charge of the team, and he has attended tournaments in Ireland with teams over the years.

St Vincent de Paul and involvement in his local Drumkeen Community

Needless to say there isn’t too much spare time going a begging, however Terry somehow finds time to be involved in his local community in Drumkeen.  He has been involved in the local chapter of St Patrick’s Drumkeen St. Vincent De Paul Society as the treasurer for the last eight years.

This was a job he inherited when the previous treasurer was stepping down and he was told that he was the new treasurer.

If there’s work to be done, it’s said, you should always ask a busy person, and Terry is definitely the go to guy when help is needed, and he is often to be seen helping out in the chapel in Drumkeen, assisting the priest and the sacristan when he’s available.

While still living in Letterkenny he was approached by Fr John McLoone who rang him about a new lay ministry course that was starting and he was told to be there. This was the very first of this type of course which took place in 1980 and afterwards those who trained on it were then put on a rota in the various churches around Letterkenny.  He continued in this role until departing for the Lebanon on duty.  On his return from overseas duty and just after after moving to Drumkeen in 1986 he was asked by Fr Curran, to take up his role as a lay minister there, which he still continues to the present day.

Terry states that there is a great community spirit in Drumkeen, a community that has lost a lot in recent years in terms of their post office, the local shop and indeed have been without a priest in residence for a number of years.  It is this spirit from the those within the community that makes a difference and as a part of it, he has always endeavoured to teach by example through his continued work.  There is no doubt that he has and continues to be a fine example for young people to follow.

Community Hero

Some of the Army Memobrillia that Terry has amassed from his many tours of duty

Even though he retired from the army in 2004 Terry is busier than ever and for the near future his aim is to keep going with his involvement in soccer and the various committees.  He is planning to cut back a bit when he reaches 75 in two years’ time, or as long as his health allows him to continue his work.  For a man who has lived and breathed football as well as being a key link in his community, the idea of taking it easy, may, be a big ask, so we’ll see how that one works out!