My first ever encounter with John Walkin was selling him cans of worms for bait in his angling tackle shop on Tone Street in Ballina as a youngster in the late 1960s.
His famous knuckle-crunching handshake
It was one of the few if unusual ways for youngsters to make a few bob in those days and John was able to sell the fish bait to visiting anglers who were delighted with the service.
So when I heard that John Walkin had been named Mayo Person of the Year for 2014, I remembered that first encounter with fondness and his jovial banter and famous knuckle-crunching handshake.
John Walkin richly deserves the Mayo Person honour for a lifetime of work in developing angling, tourism, and commerce in Ballina and the wider North Mayo hinterland.
My only surprise is that it took so long for the Mayo Association in Dublin to honour the man who is synonymous with both deep-sea angling, and salmon fishing, and also the promotion of tourism in his beloved hometown of Ballina.
John Walkin, now in his seventies, gave a lifetime of local service through his involvement in the North West Regional Fisheries Board, the Central Fisheries Board, Ireland West Tourism, Connacht Council Sea Angling Association and Ballina Chamber of Commerce.
He held the highest positions in all these organisations: he was chairman of the fisheries board for a number of terms; he chaired Ireland West Tourism; he chaired the Connacht Council SAC and was President of Ballina Chamber of Commerce on two occasions.
He is the only man to serve as chairman of two regional organisations simultaneously – the regional fisheries authority and tourism board.
One of the founders of the Killala Bay Sea Angling Club in the late 1960s, over the years, he helped develop and promote the club as an administrator and press officer.
One of the highlights of his sea angling career was the hosting of the World Sea Angling Championships on Killala Bay in 1977 which was won by Yugoslavia.
John is a member of the well known and highly respected Walkin family of Ballina. He is the second eldest of 8; his sister, Maura is the eldest of the family.
He is known throughout Ireland, not just for his involvement in State and voluntary organisations, but as a successful cross-country and track athlete in his youth, having won honours with athletic clubs in Ballina, Ennis, Drogheda and Dublin.
First port of call for many anglers and visitors to Ballina
He continues to run a successful angling and gift shop in Ballina with the help of his wife, Colette.
His premises continues to be the first port of call for many anglers and visitors to the town who know they will receive a warm welcome and plenty of good advice about where to stay, the best fishing haunts, and the best restaurants.
He set up his angling tackle and giftware shop on Tone Street in the 1960s and later moved the premises to its current location on Market Road.
Over the years, he has had his personal health battles, but the teak toughness he displayed on the cross-country circuits in the 1950s has always brought him through his ordeals.
Those who know John Walkin enjoy his great sense of humour and storehouse of humorous anecdotes from his years in business and sport.
John Walkin’s greatest achievement as chairman of the now-defunct North Western Regional Fisheries Board was to persuade the Government to sign over control of the River Moy from the Central Board to the Ballina-based regional authority after many years of lobbying in May 1999.
Holds the Irish record for the heaviest John Dory ever caught
John is also not a man to mince his words, and while sometimes he shoots from the hip, he rarely misses his target.
He has his finger on the pulse of what is happening locally and nationally and he is an avid listener to both local and national radio.
He has two children, Cliona and John Bosco.
Cliona carried on her father’s love of angling and to this day still holds the Irish record for the heaviest John Dory ever caught in Irish waters – a record she achieved as a 12-year-old fishing with her father on Killala Bay.
Commenting on winning the Mayo Person title: John said: “It is an honour and a privilege for myself, and my family, to have this great title bestowed on me by the people of Mayo. I have been given the highest accolade any Mayo person can receive, and I hope I can live up to this great honour and do Mayo proud over the next 12 months.
“I will continue to remain a proud Mayo and Ballina man.”
John says his only regret during his years in public life was not seeing his vision for a Salmon Life Centre being established on the banks of the River Moy in Ballina.
He said all the groundwork for the proposed interpretative centre about the life cycle of the salmon has already been done by the Fisheries Board and Ballina Town Council and he is now once again calling on the Government to approve the project.
“The Centre would complement the Jackie Clarke Collection and the proposed Mary Robinson centre of learning, adding greatly to the many tourism attractions Ballina has already to offer tourists from all over the world.”
Further evidence that John Walkin is forever a fighter and has no intention of retiring as he continues to promote his native Ballina at every opportunity.
UPDATE: John retired from business in 2017.