The Sunday Interview - James ‘Banty’ Nash

Banty Nash (centre) pictured with Pink Panthers facilitator Margaret Cunningham and fellow member Gerry Sharkey.
Banty Nash (centre) pictured with Pink Panthers facilitator Margaret Cunningham and fellow member Gerry Sharkey.

Cigarette smoke lingers just in front of James ‘Banty’ Nash’s face as he starts to remember.

A journey down memory lane is and always will be bitter sweet for Banty.

Last month he buried his daughter, Rhonda Lee after she died suddenly; four years ago he was told he was close to death and in 1972 he lost his younger brother, Willie Nash when he was shot dead by British Paratroopers on Bloody Sunday.

“No parent should ever have to bury a child. Ronda Lee was an amazing daughter. She was so full of life and no matter what life threw at her she just got on with it. I was so proud she was my daughter and I was her father. She will always be in my heart.”

When Banty remembers, his memories bring with them more than their fair share of heartache and sadness but his life is not without joy, happiness and hope.

In 2010 Banty was diagnosed with a life threatening illness and was told by a doctor that had he not received treatment he would almost certainly have been dead within a matter of weeks.

Working at the Ballymagroarty Community Garden on Wednesday afternoon are, from left, James Nash, Roxanne Nixon, Health Development Worker and Colin Canning. 2705JM10

Working at the Ballymagroarty Community Garden on Wednesday afternoon are, from left, James Nash, Roxanne Nixon, Health Development Worker and Colin Canning. 2705JM10

“I couldn’t believe it, I just couldn’t believe what the doctor was saying.

“I was prescribed a very high dose of chemotherapy tablets and have been taking them ever since. Although the drugs are helping me they probably will eventually end up giving me leukaemia,” said Banty.

For months after, Banty was in dire straits and took to alcohol to try and ease his distress but it was a chance meeting with Ballymagroarty community leader, Billy Page, which saw him back on the straight and narrow.

“Billy Page told me about a group that had been set-up for men with ill health. It was part of the Ballymagroarty and Hazelbank Community Partnership.

“There were men in the group with various physical and mental illnesses but joining the group made me feel like I felt 20 years ago.

“Joining the group was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life and it has got me enjoying life again. Times are still very tough, especially with the loss of Rhonda Lee, but I would be lost with the help and support of people like Roxanne Nixon, Margaret Cunningham, Geraldine Fitzpatrick, the COSY Club and all the volunteers in the area.”

Banty was born in Springtown Camp in 1950 and when he was five years-old the family moved to Joseph Street in the Bogside before settling in Creggan.

As a youngster he attended St. Patrick’s P.S. in Pennyburn before going on to finish his studies at Bridge Street School.

“I’ve great memories of my childhood. Although I was only five I can still remember the big train that used to go from Derry to Buncrana - they were very different days back then.”

Banty was a gifted footballer and whilst playing a game in Belfast he was presented with the ‘Best Player of the Competition’ award by Manchester United legend George Best.

“I must have done something right because Manchester United offered me the chance to join them on trial. It was a choice between staying at home in Derry and going to Manchester United. I decided to stay at home. I never liked Manchester United that much anyway - had it been Arsenal it would have been a different story,” he said laughing.

On leaving school, Banty, got a job working at the All Cash Stores in Derry as a message boy.

“I was a bit like David Jason in ‘Open All Hours’. I used to ride one of the bikes with a little basket on the front of it,” he smiled.

When he was 17 Banty worked briefly for the British Sound Recording (BSR) factory and then along with several of his brothers and his father Alexander, they left Derry for England in the late ‘60s to seek out work as industrial painters.

“The money in England was amazing. My wage at the BSR was only a few pound but I remember taking home over £100 in my first week of work in England.”

On his return to Derry, Banty fulfilled a long family tradition by working as a docker in Derry’s quay and that’s where he was first called Banty.

“My uncle was called Banty you see and back then all of the dockers had nicknames. Some of them were hilarious. One day they started calling me Banty and it’s stuck ever since.”

At the age of 21 Banty met and married Margaret Friel but the day after their wedding Banty’s younger brother Willie Nash was one of the 13 people shot dead on the streets of Derry by British paratroopers during Bloody Sunday.

“Myself and Margaret were due to go Dublin for our honeymoon but I convinced her to stay for the march - we never got on that honeymoon.”

Banty’s father was also injured during the march and his mother, who was already suffering from ill health was in the hospital.

“Looking back now, I didn’t know what was going on but if it hadn’t have been for all of my brothers and sisters and the rest of our family, I don’t know how we all would have coped.

“It was a terrible time for us but nothing will ever come close to how I felt when I heard David Cameron say what everyone already knew - our William was innocent.”

After the death of his mother, Banty became a republican activist and after working as a painter on many building sites in and around the North West, Banty, Margaret and their seven children moved to the east end of London.

Banty and his family spent seven years living in London and when they returned to Derry in 1993 he started work with Barney McGuigan, Michael Bridge and Liam Wray on the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign.

“We met up for years in one another’s houses and we would have spent 18 hours a day researching as much as we could about what happened that day.

“I got involved in the campaign for three reasons. Number one was the repudiation of Widgery; number two, the declaration of innocence and number three, that there would be prosecutions.

“Will there ever be prosecutions over what happened on Bloody Sunday? I don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see.

“Some of the paratroopers who were involved that day are in their seventies and eighties now. Do I want to see old men going to jail? I don’t think so.”