DERRY JOURNAL 250: Domhnall was always in the thick of things

Never forgotten.... the late Domhnall Mac Dermott.Never forgotten.... the late Domhnall Mac Dermott.
Never forgotten.... the late Domhnall Mac Dermott.
My late brother Domhnall MacDermott started working in the Derry Journal in 1981. His close friend, Siobhan Quinn, had also applied for the same job and so on the day he got word he had been successful Domhnall found himself in a quandary.

He met Siobhan as usual but didn’t know how to say to her he had got the job believing that she had been disappointed. As they were parting Siobhan said she would see him tomorrow as usual and Domhnall awkwardly explained he wouldn’t be able to see her as he was starting work in the Journal to which Siobhan announced so was she. And as they say, the rest is history.

They started work together and tragically both were to die while still in the employ of the paper.

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Domhnall’s career at the Journal coincided with some of the most momentous events in local history and he was in the thick of things. He quickly built up contacts that were second to none and brought many scoops to the paper.

Indeed, on one occasion he almost found himself in trouble when himself and the late Journal photographer Larry Doherty were sitting in a car in the Diamond when a cop was shot almost right beside them.

The RUC took some convincing that Domhnall had not received a tip-off of the impending operation only for Larry to point out that Domhnall was not supposed to be there he was just getting a lift to another job.

On another occasion, a major Noraid leader from the US, Martin Galvin, was banned from the North but sneaked into Derry. Domhnall was ‘kidnapped’ and taken to interview Galvin at a secret location. His scoop garnered attention from the world’s media but one newspaper, which will remain nameless, rang him to ask had he reported his kidnapping to the RUC. Funnily enough, he hadn’t.

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He was an astute commentator on the local political scene and after an interview with Martin McGuinness in the early 1990s Domhnall wrote a story that Pat McArt blazed across the front page ‘Ceasefire imminent’.

Now this was at a time when a ceasefire did not look remotely feasible and the Journal came in for some criticism.

Some months later as Domhnall lay dying in hospital in Dublin the IRA announced the ceasefire. When Domhnall came round for one of his periodic bouts of consciousness we told him about the announcement and he said ‘I told you so.’ Always had to get the scoop.

Just in case anyone gets the wrong impression Domhnall was far from a saint and could be cantankerous to say the least.

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Siobhan used to tell the story of the wee woman whose son was the first in the family ever to graduate. She left the only photo she had down to appear in the paper and as happened time after time it was lost. (We were notorious for that). Anyway, the wee woman was breaking her heart and came in to tell Domhnall of her dilemma while Domhnall who was probably hungover did not even look up from his typewriter and did not express the slightest sympathy. Siobhan not for the first time nor the last had to salvage the situation.

Space does not permit me to do justice to Domhnall’s time with the Journal. He was an excellent journalist but could land himself in trouble as well.

One famous occasion he wrote a piece about the harbour and at the bottom put in brackets ‘is that enough harbour nonsense Ed?’ forgetting the golden rule that Pat McArt never read to the bottom of copy.

So the story appeared in Friday’s paper with the quote still there. Domhnall was summoned to the office but thankfully for him the Harbour Commissioners saw the funny side of it and Domhnall survived to write another day.

Domhnall died on September 5 1994 and his great friend and colleague Siobhan died on October 29 2005 and the Derry Journal was never quite the same afterwards.

- Eamonn MacDermott

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