Taxi drivers see a lot of things when they’re driving around your local town at 3am, as revellers spill out of pubs and clubs. Sadly, one of these things is people trying to take their own life. This is exactly what Derek Devoy was confronted with one Saturday night, as he was taxi-ing around his hometown of Kilkenny.

It was November 2014 and he was coming over John’s Bridge “and there was a fella up on top of it and I just didn’t know what to do, so I just stopped the car in the middle of the road, got out, went over to him and started talking to him”.

Derek says people were beeping the horn and shouting at the man, “jump you f*****g eejit”.

“I wanted to just box the head off them,” says Derek.

“There were two lads there talking to him and I said lads, get him off the bridge, and they got him down and I said: ‘Look, get into the car and I’ll talk to you’,” Derek called the guards and they took care of the man.

But he could never have foreseen what would happen next.

“An hour later I saw another fella on the bridge, so I stopped again and got him into the car.”

This man told Derek he couldn’t get access to his children. He rang the same two guards.

“The cops didn’t believe it, they said ‘it couldn’t be’, and I said ‘I’m telling you, I have him here in the car’.”

Again, Derek handed matters over to the guards, but couldn’t shake off one concern. What if he had said something different and those two men had jumped?

So Derek set up Taxi Watch. Taxi Watch sees drivers patrol the streets, bridges and quays of Kilkenny, looking out for people in distress. Derek and other drivers have taken part in a SAFETALK and ASSIST course with the HSE, which instructs how to spot and speak to someone who is in distress.

Derek is known as “the Suicide Man” around Kilkenny. For a man with a very grim title, he does a Trojan amount of good work.

In two years, Taxi Watch has had 146 face-to-face rescues, where they have physically stopped people from going through with an act that would see them die. Taxi Watch has also received over 60 phone calls for immediate help. The project has expanded from Kilkenny to Clonmel, Ennis, Wateford and Mayo.

What these two men on Saint John’s Bridge didn’t know, was that Derek Devoy was probably the best possible person to have come upon them that night.

Derek understands what it’s like to stand on that exact bridge, about to jump off. He has been there himself and believes faith brought him upon the first man, as that man wanted to jump off the bridge for the same reason Derek did; the bank was trying to repossess his house.

Derek’s own story

Derek’s depression was brought about by a car accident. A drunk driver ran into the back of him in 2010, when he was driving down through Kilkenny. He broke his back. He was accused of having reversed into this driver and was taken to the High Court. The legal battle went on for four years.

“I had to go through four years of everybody calling me a liar, that there was nothing wrong with me, I had no pain, that I was acting – because you couldn’t see anything physically wrong with me,” says Derek.

This was compounded by not being able to work due to the injury.

“I had no money, I was self-employed so I was working bits of days here and there, and then I was in hospital getting my back done; I was lying down for eight months. I know in my own mind how it all started, because my parents separated 20-something years ago and I always remember my father said to me: ‘You’re the man of the house now, you have to look after everybody now’. I was only a child and I said: ‘Aw yeah, no bother Daddy’, I was balling crying the whole lot.”

So Derek took on the task of providing for his family.

“So if I’m lying at home in bed, crying, I’m useless and that’s what I felt, I felt absolutely useless. What’s the point, I’m a waste of space, thinking ‘why the f**k did she [his wife Sharon] marry me’ – all this sort of stuff was going through my head.”

Derek worked as a chauffeur to celebrities in Dublin. He used to get up in the morning, put on his suit, delayed until Sharon went out the door with the kids, took back off the suit and got back into bed. He stayed there until ten to six. He got back up before Sharon came home, put the suit back on and would say ‘I’m only home’. He hid it for eight months solid and Sharon never suspected a thing.

“I had no money coming in. Any savings I had were going down and down and down and down and then the bills were building up and the mortgage was getting in arrears.”

(The bank tried to take house off him due to arrears, but he contested this and won.)

It all got on top of Derek. He says he felt like a waste of space because he didn’t have money coming in.

“You just feel … I shouldn’t be here, I’m wasting air, I’m wasting electricity in this house … all these stupid things going through my head, I wouldn’t be using the shower so there would be more money in the house – like it was really down to that and you’re watching telly and you’ve no idea what you’re watching and you’re just staring at the television.”

And this brought him down to the bridge.

“I just went down and I was looking in – I stared at the water for about half an hour.” He says that “people came along and it kind of put me off and I didn’t want to do it, and then I was saying to myself what will happen, how will the house be paid for if I do do it”.

He decided not to do it, decided he was alright and went back to work “and I never went to counselling or anything at the start, and I thought I was grand”.

But he wasn’t grand and this all came to head one day at work.

He had spent the day chauffeuring a celebrity around and he felt “sh**e the whole day”. He was driving “a brand new Range Rover…and I said to myself right there, f**k it, what’s the point anymore. I said the next big truck that comes around the corner I’m going to pull across the road straight in front of it… and what came around the corner only a school bus full of kids and I looked at it and I said ‘I can’t do that to the kids’, if it had been a truck I was gone, I was 100% guaranteed I was going into it.”

Derek had snapped. And it was a small thing that had driven him over the edge: a silly row that morning with another driver.

He pulled in and rang his boss, who talked to him the whole way home.

Derek went to see Dr Lee in Kilkenny and says he wouldn’t be here now only for him.

“He told me go and see a counsellor and take these tablets, and it just worked for me, thank God.”

Derek is now using his experience for good, and his work has been documented in a film called Throwline (directed by Mia Mullarkey), which won Best Short Documentary at the Galway Film Fleadh this year, where it was premiered.

Derek’s next stop is America. He wants the yellow cabs in New York to join Taxi Watch and his dream is already getting off the ground, as he has been contacted by the Commission of Taxi Regulation in New York on the matter.

But back to matters at hand. Derek’s advice to people who are currently experiencing what he went through is “it won’t go away. If you get depressed, go and get help.”

He says people who find themselves in this situation need to go to counselling and talk. His experience of counselling was “it’s like someone takes their foot off your chest, you just have instant help, you find out that you’re not weird – you’re cracked, you’re not broken”. CL

Reaching out

Derek is about to embark on a schools programme. A song written by Stephanie Rainey called “100 Like Me” was made into a video by St Leo’s in Carlow to promote well-being in the school. This inspired Derek to bring the experience in the form of the “100 Like Me Tour” to 100 schools. The tour will visit two schools per day, four days a week for a year, all over the country. A car dealer has kindly sponsored the project a van to use for a year.