Nothing could have prepared Derry man, James Taylor, for what happened when he met his future father-in-law for the first time in the 1950s.
James, who was about to marry for the second time in his life, entered the home of his wife to be, Josephine McElhinney, in Donegal. The man of the house was to be James’ future father-in-law and James recognised him.
“Daddy walked into the house and shook my granda’s hand and said, ‘I know your face from somewhere’,” said James’ daughter Margaret.
“My granda replied, ‘that’s because you ordered me off a train at gunpoint in Donegal in 1920.”
James Taylor was part of an IRA flying column, led by revered socialist, Peadar O’Donnell.
Daniel McElhinney, James’ future father-in-law, had been a fireman on a Lough Swilly train that was hijacked by O’Donnell’s flying column during the Irish War of Independenc in 1920.
The IRA unit was made up from men almost all from Derry who operated all over West Donegal in the Burtonport, Dungloe, Crolly and Loughanure areas.
James was born in the modest gate lodge of a large country estate in the Springtown area of Derry in 1900. A few years later, James and the rest of his family moved to a house in Barry Street.
“My daddy always had a great belief that injustice should be challenged wherever it reared its head - he couldn’t stand inequality,” said Margaret.
“Daddy already had a social conscious by the time of the Easter Rising - he was already a member of Na Fianna [Irish nationalist youth organisation]. One year later daddy joined the Irish Volunteers which would later go on to become the IRA.
“Daddy then went on to be selected to fight against the British under the command of Peadar O’Donnell’s IRA flying column.
“He said he was trained in Donegal and they got there from Derry by travelling through Creggan, travelling by night and lying low during the day.”
One of James’ earliest military operations was attacking the British Army barracks on the Strand Road (close to where the Strand Road PSNI station is today).
Along with other members of the flying column, James threw hand-grenades over the outer wall and remarkably they all escaped via an underground tunnel which led from the nearby asylum to the infirmary.
James first encountered his future father-in-law on a train at Meenbanad near Kincasslagh.
“There’s a monument down there and we took daddy there before he died in 1990,” said Margaret.
It was a toothache that would put an end to James’ role in the War for Independence.
As he was on the run from British security forces in the North it was unsafe for James to return to Derry but one day he returned to visit his mother in Barry Street.
Complaining of a toothache, James’ mother convinced him to stay the night but in the early hours of the morning the house was raided and James was arrested and taken to the Rath internment camp on the Curragh.
When the treaty was signed, James was released on December 21, 1921 - coincidentally the same day his future wife, Josephine war born.
James was also involved in one of the most significant events to take place in the North of Ireland during the Civil War in 1922 at Newtowncunningham.
“Daddy told me that when the lorries carrying Free State Troops passed through, one of the Free State soldiers opened fire on them [the IRA] and then all hell broke loose as the IRA returned fire and four of the Free State soldiers were killed,” recalled Margaret.
James was very much anti-treaty and according to Margaret he always believed Ireland would never be united until there was unity amongst its people.
When he was arrested again after an incident in Inch Island involving troops loyal to Éamon de Valera he was injured and taken to a hospital in Letterkenny.
“Daddy was brought before his old commander, General Sweeney who offered him the chance to join the Irish Army. Daddy said he didn’t want to fight against his old comrades so it was agreed that he could become an engineer and that’s where he remained for the best part of seven or eight years.”
It was during his time in the Rath internment camp that James kept a journal. Many of James’ comrades used the journal as a way to cheer themselves up by writing poems, quotes and sketching drawings in it.
All of the poems and drawings etc were signed by the men responsible for them.
Next year marks the centenary of the Easter Rising and Sinn Fein in Derry is calling on local people, of all political persuasions to contact them with their own stories of the War of Independence and Civil War.
Margaret, who said she is by no means political, explained why she came forward and donated her father’s journal to Sinn Fein.
“I think it’s important that our history is celebrated no matter what.
“My father’s second wife, my mother, was a Protestant, so growing up my brothers and sisters and I had the best of both worlds.
“I remember being taken by mother to watch my cousins from Donegal who were in the Orange Order taking part in the July 12 marches.
“Daddy was never a bitter man at all, in fact he encouraged all of his children to think for themselves but it was funny, because when he died we had to put a look out on the door of the wake house.
“We told them to keep an eye out for any people coming to pay their respects from my mother’s side of the family because someone would have to rush upstairs and remove the Irish tricolour and medals from his coffin.”