Pat Leo O’Doherty who passed away recently was a man of many talents, a cartoonist, stained glass artist, political internee, Gaelic actor and singer.
His cartoons were contemporary, relevant and humorous. One such was drawn when the Londonderry Corporation were discussing the erection of the high rise Rossville flats which was opposed by the Anti-partition party. One member of this opposition declared that this development would destroy the traditional Irish architectural ambience of the Bogside area. The architecture referred to consisted mainly of rows of one storey red brick slated houses with outside toilets. Pat Leo’s version of traditional Irish architecture was a drawing of the ancient Grianan Fort with clothes lines radiating in every direction carrying a variety of shirts, combinations, other underwear and drawers.
During his studies at the Belfast College of Art the curriculum covered a wide variety of artistic forms but stained glass design became his speciality.
In his coursework he produced many fine examples of leaded glasswork but his talent was shown most clearly when one of his tutors bought his entry for an end of term examination.
While Pat Leo was interned in the Crumlin Road jail he put his cartoon skills to accurate critical use on the prison walls. The most hated warder was a bullying loudmouth with big feet who Leo depicted as a huge pair of boots topped with a large mouth and a balloon caption of the warder’s latest comment.
The subject of the cartoons recognised himself but despite roaring and bullying he never succeeded in identifying the artist.
On release Pat Leo spent a period at home trying to reinvigorate his artistic career. During this period he was a keen promoter of the Irish language in Derry and a member of the Craobh. In the annual Feis Doire Cholmcille he competed in the traditional singing competitions and earned himself the title of ‘The Feis Perry Como’ because of his relaxed and confident style.
In the 1950s a period of high unemployment and religious discrimination, Pat, like many others emigrated.
He went to London and lived in Hampstead where he socialised in ‘The Bunch of Grapes’ with a group of journalists and artistic types which included the late Seamus McGonagle from Derry. It was there that he met his life partner Lynette who was a graphic artist.
This period was also the beginning of the Troubles in the Six Counties and he joined the London branch of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.
After the murder of Seamus Cusack and Dessie Beattie by the British Army in Derry in 1969 the association held a protest demonstration in Trafalgar Square.
Leo was involved in the organisation of the event and created a very emotional atmosphere when a two minute silence was held.
Leo and another member stood to attention, ten metres apart in the clear area in front of the speakers’ platform holding black flags vertically erect until the silence commenced.
The flags were then slowly lowered until the period ended when each pointed towards the ground. The thousands present erupted into prolonged applause and the guest Irish actors on the platform described it as a wonderful piece of street drama.
Pat Leo was the son of Mary and Harry O’Doherty from the Bogside.