Creggan photographer and writer, Hugh Gallagher, has been providing snapshots of Derry life for decades and today shares some of his pictures in the first of a two-part feature looking back over his life and career in the city.
Hugh was just one year old when his parents, Hugh and Mary, joined hundreds of other young couples as they moved in to what was then the new Creggan Estate. Speaking in the same front room in Melmore Gardens, he said: “I was actually born in the Limavady Road. Cullen’s Amusements used to have flats there and we lived in one. Then we moved to Creggan in 1950, so we’ve been here 67 years . . . .
“There were 10 of us and my Ma and Da. I was the first boy of three, with my brothers Liam and Eugene.
“My father was a barman in the Brandywell Bar for 24 years and he had an interest in photography. He also worked in the City Hotel and the Gluepot Bar. My mother came from Quarry Street and her maiden name was Page.
“I went to school first of all at the Rosemount Boys, but there weren’t enough children going to Holy Child P.S. so they sent me up there for a year and when I went back down to Rosemount they said, ‘Right, your holiday’s over now, that’s it!’ You only had to go for a half a day up in the Holy Child.”
Recalling his childhood in Creggan, Hugh said: “I remember the building of the New Road (Eastway), laying down the concrete and the Community Centre round the corner, which is derelict now. There used to be a cinema down in the Boys’ Club in Beechwood Crescent, an old hut where you used to watch the like of ‘Rocket Man’, mostly serials.’
“It was great then. Everything revolved around football. There were a lot of internationals who played in the field in Melmore. Brendan Bradley, Terry Harkin, Colm Norris and Paddy McGrory among them.
“We also played football in the Bishop’s Field with Tony Doherty. Those matches went on from morning to night.
“During the Retreat we attended 6.30am Mass. Then you went up to Hunter’s Bakery at ‘the shops’ and got fresh cookies and baps which were always hot before going out to play in the Bishop’s Field from 8 o’clock to 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Neil Murray and Neil (Dingus) Magee always kept the score.”
Hugh later attended the Christian Brothers and the Tech. He recalls: “At the Christian Brothers, your period for playing games lasted 40 minutes. Celtic Park was run down, it was a muck heap.
“We arrived there, in pouring with rain and we had to wear the rigs of the people coming off the pitch. When our time was up, we passed the rig onto the next people who had to wear the rig again. I still don’t know how they got away with it!” he laughed.
Hugh started his writing career while at school. “I remember Giles Doherty, who plays piano at the Feis, was a teacher. I started reading short stories by an American writer O. Henry. He advised people to have a twist, to end it something different from what the reader thinks.”
Hugh said he incorporates that advice in his own stories, which have been published widely in the local Press and in Ireland’s Own among others. One of the stories was based on a real life Christmas episode: “There was a Rickety Wheel in the Boys’ Club at Broadway and Fr. Carolan ran it. People won prizes which Fr. Carolan got off local traders.
“At the end of the night my mother won a turkey and they turned on the lights and all the turkeys were running around the floor. She had to walk up in the snow with this turkey on a lead. It escaped and went into Quigley’s garden and they caught it. My Ma couldn’t kill it, Mrs Cusack had to kill it because she was a country woman and it was hung up on the back door. Me Ma wouldn’t even walk past it.
“On Christmas day she would never eat any turkey!”
Hugh Gallagher said there was always a real sense of community in Derry during the Troubles.
“During the Troubles everybody stood together. There’s hardly a house in any street that hasn’t been affected by the Troubles. Seamus Cusack lived in this street. He was one of the first killed. That was a massive funeral.
“In those days I could have named everybody in the street. I probably still could. It was an open door. People borrowed off one another, loaned each other five bob ‘til the end of the week, things like that. I even borrowed football boots from the Cusack family to play. During the Troubles I was the Secretary of the Lower Creggan Neighbourhood Association, a pressure group for people getting repairs done to houses. We organised streets into saying what was wrong with their houses. It was all voluntary.”
Hugh said that some things haven’t changed in the city, especially for those seeking employment. “There’s still no work. There never was enough work to keep people.
“This thing about ‘everybody was poor but they were happy,’ I don’t agree with that. They were poor but they got on with it. There was nothing else for it.”
Hugh has published the a book ‘A View of Derry’ with Guildhall Press and ‘The Spectator and Other Derry Stories’ with Eamonn Deane and Yes Publications.
*In Part Two Hugh talks about his working life and how he got into a career in photography which has seen him take pictures of thousands of local people and work with Derry City Football Club and various other organisations.