Letterkenny to China

Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly was born in Letterkenny (1965), his father from the Oldtown and his mother from Glenswilly. He joined the Department of Post & Telegraph (now An Post) in 1980 and took early retirement in 1987 and graduated from the University of Ulster in 1992 in Media Studies. He then moved to London where he worked as a journalist for a range of publications covering business and technology before eventually moving into corporate communications for some of the world’s best known technology companies such as Xerox, Marconi and BT.

Joe moved from London to mainland China in 2012 and today is VP of corporate communications for Huawei, one of the world’s largest telecoms and IT companies which also has operations in Ireland (Dublin, Cork and Athlone). Joe’s married to Una from Derry and together they have two children Aidan and Eunan. His twin, Michael, lives in Boston.

Living so far away from home, Joe misses the clean air, the pace of life, the people and the scenery of Donegal. “Donegal is a place you have to leave to fully appreciate,” he says.

He has many childhood memories of Donegal bathed in summer sunshine, however he jokes ‘maybe that’s just my imagination playing tricks on me’. Home for Joe and his family today is Shenzhen, a city of 11 million people in southern China, one hour by ferry from Hong Kong. 30 years ago, it was a fishing village and Joe explains: ‘That type of growth and urbanization is only possible in a place like China’. “There are two Irish pubs and two Irish butchers a few minutes walk from their apartment. One thing Joe refuses to do in China however is drive: “The Chinese have no history of driving and no obvious rules of the road, so it’s not for the feint-hearted – it reminds me of the chariot scene in Ben Hur. Thankfully, taxis are common and cheap’.

Most of Joe’s family still live in Donegal. While living in London he would travel back for visits four or five times per year, usually spending the summer holidays there. Living in China Joe gets to visit less often now but keeps in touch by telephone and social media. He is however planning to build a house in Gartan and to return to live in Donegal again in a few years time. When asked what the best thing about Donegal, Joe says it’s undeniably its people: “No matter where you go, or how long you’ve been away, you always get a warm welcome back,” he explains.