Darren Balliah was finishing his night shift at the Crown Plaza when he discovered his hero Nelson Mandela had passed away.
He clocked out and spotted the breaking news on the TV. “It was a shock,” said Darren in an interview with The Dundalk Democrat, “Everybody knew it was going to happen. Although it doesn’t make the pain any easier knowing that that father of your country will no longer be around.”
Darren, who is a chef at the Crown Plaza, moved to Dundalk over ten years. Originally from South Africa, Darren see’s Mandela as a hero figure.
My family were heavily involved in politics in South Africa,” said Darren, “My uncle was a member of the ANC who strived to get Mandela released from prison.
“As a kid, it was hard growing up. I couldn’t go to the school I wanted to. I couldn’t go to the public pools. I was not allowed in certain shopping centres. There was no freedom.”
Equipped with the skill of culinary arts, Darren could only study to a certain extent based on the colour of his skin. But all that changed in 1990.
“Nelson’s release from prison changed the way of life for the better in my country. If he was not released, I would not be here in Dundalk.
“It was a different world. There was freedom for everybody. Nelson had a way to embrace and calm people using words.
“I am confident that had Nelson served longer as President, he would have conquered a lot more.”
Although from South Africa, Darren has been granted Irish citizenship in recent years.
He is enjoying life in Dundalk. He said: “I love Dundalk. I worked in Fitzpatrick’s Restaurant for a number of years and Danny Fitzpatrick helped in getting me a permit and citizenship.
“Sometimes we need to try something different, so I am now working in the Crown Plaza.
“I love Dundalk and I have read a lot of Mandela’s books. I take something from them every day which helps me to enjoy life.”