'He's very good at watching out for other people, just to make sure everyone's okay'
The oldest competitor at the Special Olympics Ireland Games will lead from the front this weekend.

Special Olympics Ireland Team Eastern Launch Eóin Noonan / SPORTSFILE Team Eastern's oldest and youngest competitors ahead of this weekend's action in Dublin. Eóin Noonan / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

THE BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS of the oldest athlete taking part in this weekend’s Special Olympics Ireland Games can be sketched out in black and white.

Charlie Campbell was born in Liverpool in November 1938 and crossed the Irish Sea for the first time just days later to be swaddled by Dublin.

As a child he passed through the gate to St Augustine’s in Blackrock before then attending St Raphael’s, Celbridge. Later, Charlie lived with and worked for a family in their Ballsbridge home for two decades.

He was alone ‘essentially’ — or at least, without family — in the world for a long time before a search was undertaken to trace his roots. Suddenly he had a mother’s grave to visit in Buncrana and some family to connect with in Donegal and Dublin.

Then two years ago, with Charlie well into his 70s, a phone call started with ‘hello’ and ended with a brother.

A man in England had undertaken his own research and discovered Charlie’s existence.

They had ‘an emotional reunion’ in May 2016 and subsequently made the journey to their mother’s grave together.

“They met each other quite a few times and he’s met his brother’s family, all his children and things like that,” says Shelly Breslin, Charlie’s coach.

“They see each other and there’s more contact and family is very important to a lot of our guys. Because especially back in those days they might have been put into an institution or whatever at the time and nobody can see them or there’s very little known about their families.”

People in Celbridge will no doubt know Charlie from his work in Spar and in the Abbey grounds. Not far off his 80th birthday, he’s now retired and fills his day with choir, arts and crafts and his beloved sport.

He’s taken part for years in Ireland Games through pitch and putt and bocce – a game like bowls — especially.

“He’s in a community house and he lives with other service users,” says Breslin. “They’re all around his age — not as old but in their 60s.  He’s been living there a while and was one of the first people to move into St Raphael’s in 1954.

“He loves to compete and he would go mad if I said take it easy and not to bother.”

The flame is lit this evening in Tallaght and the Games get underway tomorrow, running until Sunday in the National Sports Complex mainly. Charlie will once again tog out in the bocce 7s league and he will play pitch and putt for Team Eastern.

“It’s about going out and enjoying it and meeting other people,” says Breslin of the Games. “That’s why he likes to do it. It’s very sociable.

“It’s about going out chatting to volunteers and telling them what’s going on in his life and that’s the main thing, that’s what he loves about it.”

There’s a pause.

“Obviously he loves to win as well.”

‘I look down the back of the bus and there’s Claw, fag in his mouth, puffing away!’

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