DERRY JOURNAL 250: The Journal punched well above its weight

If journalism is the first draft of history then we who worked in the Journal have covered our fair share of historical moments.

By Eamonn Mac Dermott
Wednesday, 1st June 2022, 8:16 am

I joined the Derry Journal in June 1996 and was barely there a month when we had some of the most vicious rioting in the city for many years after Drumcree. One person died and scores were injured. I think in the Tuesday edition following that rioting we devoted 24 pages talking to the injured, eyewitnesses, politicians, and the like.

We covered all the major political and historical events and were used to the likes of John Hume and Martin McGuinness being in and out of the office. The night before the Good Friday Agreement Pat McArt held the paper back just in case an agreement was reached by the midnight deadline (we could do that in those days, no worries about printers we had our own).

Talking to the local parties almost every half hour gave me a real flavour of history in the making. Even more historical was the fact that Pat treated those of us in the office to a fish supper – an event never to be repeated.

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Eamonn MacDermott .

The paper didn’t hesitate to send reporters to wherever stories were happening that would have an impact on our city. I even had a by-line ‘Eamonn MacDermott reporting from Stormont’ having been sent to cover the opening day of the Assembly in 1998. As an aside, the Speaker had decided that only the national papers were being allowed in and so I complained to the Derry representatives of all four of the main parties. Just as it looked like I was going to have to watch events on television in a portacabin outside along came an official asking for the Derry Journal and in I went. Of course, all four parties claimed the credit for it with John Hume even telling me he told the Speaker ‘no Journal, no Assembly starting’.

Along with history came tragedy and none of us who were there could forget the Omagh bomb and its aftermath. We seemed to spend the next week travelling to wake houses, hospitals and funerals. I was sent by Siobhan McEleney to talk to some of the injured in Altnagelvin and at first, it was not that bad as most of them just remembered a bang and then they woke up in hospital. But then came a couple who had left their daughters off and had driven around the corner when the bomb exploded. Well, they saw everything and described it to us in graphic detail. I can easily say this was one of the most horrific stories I have ever covered.

Bloody Sunday was another issue we covered in great depth. On the day the Saville Inquiry was announced I was fortunate enough to be allowed by the relatives to stay with them while they waited for Tony Blair to make his announcement. Their nervousness and trepidation after so many false dawns was palpable. Of course, when the Inquiry opened our coverage was ‘superb’ - not my words but the words of Christopher Clarke QC counsel to the Inquiry. Related to that was the Journal’s scoop in obtaining a tape made by the IRA of British army phone calls on the evening of Bloody Sunday. The existence of that tape had long been speculated on but no one really believed it existed. We obtained it and made headline news all over the world with camera crews queuing up to talk to us in the office. I was even sent to Belfast to cover the release of the Patten Report on policing.

The Derry Journal was a big newspaper then. Big in terms of circulation (about 50,000 copies sold a week), big in terms of size with Friday’s broadsheet standing out on the shelves and big in attitude.

Eamonn being interviewed by international media after the Saville Report.

The Journal strutted the media stage with attitude. We may only have been a bi-weekly local paper but we punched well above our weight.

Eamonn MacDermott. 2008JM29