Legal profession mark passing of coroner

The late Ronnie O'Doherty
The late Ronnie O'Doherty

Derry’s legal profession has paid tribute to one of its best known local figures.

Ronnie O’Doherty, a former coroner and solicitor, passed away at his Buncrana home on January 9.

He was 85.

His passing was marked in the days following his death at Derry Courthouse.

“I would like to put on record our condolences to the family of Ronald O’Doherty - a long serving solicitor and coroner,” solicitor Thomas Doherty said.

Mr Doherty continued:”Indeed both he and his father go back to 1920. On behalf of the local bar I offer my condolences.”

District Judge Barney McElholm added : “I am sorry to hear about his death. I would add my condolence.

“He was a very well known figure in local legal circles.”

After leaving Glenstal School in the late 1940’s Mr O’Doherty chose to enter the Novitiate of the Holy Ghost Fathers, spending a year in Kilshane, Co Tipperary, before deciding to study law, a move that would see him serve first as a solicitor then as coroner.

In one of his most high profile cases in 1997, he dismissed the jury at an inquest into the death of Strabane INLA man Alex Patterson shot dead by the SAS seven years previously.

The three-day hearing at Derry Courthouse ended in confusion when Mr. O’Doherty refused to divulge the contents of a document presented to him by the jury after they said they had felt under pressure to reach a verdict.

In 2003, after serving Derry and north Tyrone for 21 years, Mr O’Doherty successfully won his own legal battle,

Mr O’Doherty challenged a decision by the Lord Chancellor and the Northern Ireland Court Service to retire him because he had reached the age of 75.

At the time a spokesperson for the Coroners Association for Northern Ireland said: “Mr. O’Doherty’s colleagues had been deeply dismayed by the Lord Chancellor’s ill-advised action and we are pleased that he has been reinstated to continue his distinguished career as coroner for Londonderry district.”

Only last year Mr O’Doherty spoke to the ‘Journal’ as part of a piece on his grandfather, Hugh C O’Doherty, who in 1920 became the first Catholic Mayor of Derry.

One of his first acts as mayor was to propose a ban on the flying of all flags from the Guildhall in order to ensure that there would be no barrier to local people identifying with the Corporation. He also announced that he would not be attending any function at which a loyal toast would be made.

“It was a very progressive thing to do back then,” his grandson told the ‘Journal’ in January 2013.

“When you consider what was happening elsewhere in the country at the time, banning the flying of flags from the Guildhall was a courageous thing to do,” he added.

“Looking at what has been happening recently made me think of what my grandfather did more than ninety years ago.

“It shows how history repeats itself.

“Like today, his move was not immediately popular and was criticised by some, but it was ultimately accepted and no flag was flown from the Guildhall from 1920 to 1923 while he was mayor,” Mr O’Doherty said.

Mr O’Doherty is survived by his wife Una and children Sheena, Moya-Jane, Roderick, Gearoid and Ronan.