James Doherty and the legend of Doherty’s sausages and mince

The late James Doherty.
The late James Doherty.

In 2002 James Doherty took part in the Derry Journal’s Memories of Derry series where he talked about the many groups he was involved in over the years and how the business Doherty’s Meats evolved. He also spoke light heartedly about the nickname given to so many Doherty children - Doherty Sausages. We’ve printed the article again below here.

For every wee Doherty who has ever been teased at primary school and nicknamed Doherty’s sausages, this is the man they should firmly point the finger of blame at.

From small beginnings in a butcher’s shop in Waterloo Place six generations of the Doherty family in Derry have built themselves up to become a major meat manufacturing business in the city.

Despite being an only child James Doherty, who will later this year, celebrate his 52nd wedding anniversary with his wife Philomena went on to have a large family himself. Five daughters and five sons many of whom have now joined him in the meat manufacturing business.

James was born at 8 Waterloo Place in 1925 and still remembers fondly how determined his father was that he should have a good education sending him first to the convent school in Pump Street then St Columb’s College and on to University College Dublin.

“I had a firm plan when I entered UCD that I wanted to get involved with business,” said James.

“My degree was in economics and commerce and I managed to secure a first class honours degree. There were many influential people who attended the university in my time including Garret Fitzgerald and Charlie Haughey who in fact took over as president of the commerce society after I left.

“During my time in Dublin the Second World War was on.

“I decided to join the 42nd battalion in Dublin which meant that I was at the disposal of the Ministry of Defence.

“Every Tuesday and Sunday evening and throughout the summer we were engaged in training.

“There as a great fear that the country would be invaded, there were four battalions in Dublin and I have often wondered what would have happened if an invasion had occurred.

“We would probably have been slaughtered.”

Returning to Derry after college James was anxious to practice his newly found business skills in his father’s shop.

“The shop was both retail and manufacturing,” he said. “My father had taken over the shop in 1903 when he was just 16 and had made huge developments with it as he was an expert in livestock.

“All my early life I lived above the shop in Waterloo Place and can remember some of the great characters that came into it.

“However one of my happiest memories was learning to ride my bicycle in the corridor behind the shop.

“Our shop was one of the biggest in Derry. When my father and I began expanding the business we started delivering our produce all over county Derry and Tyrone.

“The business kept growing from there into Letterkenny, into the west and further afield.

“One of the biggest developments that we had was our self service shop which was the first one of its kind in Derry.

“It seemed amazing to people that they could wander about the shop having a look at the produce and then make a decision about what they wanted.

“However our wholesaling was not a hit with everyone, local butchers saw us as competition so we would use our wholesale for our own shop and then deliver out other items.

“When we brought in the idea of pre-packing it was a huge hit. For the first time people were not buying meat by the pound but they could actually see a price for the item on the box. It was a novelty for people to be able to buy sausages and hamburger meat in these packages even though it was tough for us as we had to work night shifts to get all the stuff out on time.

“The first time we put our expensive joints in the window with the actual price tag on them they sold out within a matter of minutes.

“It got people away from the embarrassment of having to say yes at the counter.

“If they went in and asked for a pound of chops and the butcher said that’s a pound and a quarter they would feel obliged to say yes and accept it.”

The troubles in Derry had a profound impact on the business.

James explained: “Anytime we knew there was going to be a riot we had to put the staff on double time. It seems ridiculous now that our staff were on double time during the riots and we were not doing any business.

“Many businesses in Derry were bombed during the troubles and we were no exception. The shop next to us was bombed and part of our shop was badly damaged.

“We still had our manufacturing shop in Waterloo Place but eventually we decided we had to relocate to Pennyburn.”

When not working James was also an instrumental figure on Derry Corporation which he was a member of for 19 years.

“My political life began with the anti-partitionist party which later became the Nationalist Party,” he explained.

“One of our main aims was to ensure that people would not be let down by those who were representing them.

“We had our own rules in the party such as not entering the mayor’s parlour and not drinking with the unionists.

“In the mid 1960s new legislation came in which was very favourable for Catholics. It stated that all houses that were below standard had to be replaced. This was a major breakthrough and we were keen to get the houses renovated.

“Housing was not good in Derry especially in Creggan where the houses were all squashed together to keep all the Catholics together.

“Housing was used as a tool for gerrymandering to ensure that a 60-40 situation was maintained in Derry.

We did our best for the people in Derry with our organisation but it wasn’t as sophisticated as the parties today.

“One of the great things we planned at the time was the area plan in which we planned to transform Derry into three parts - an old town, a new town and a hub of industry. Just like Edinburgh.

“I believe the area plan was a great idea and it would have meant that Shantallow would grow with housing.

“The unionists were dragging their feet and several members of the church felt that the area we had put aside for industry should be used for housing.

“The SDLP were emerging as a strong party and this weakened our party. Before long I resigned.”

But there was more work for James to do as the provincial grand knight of the Knights of St Columbanus and he was awarded a papal knighthood in 1987 for his services to the organisation.

“I always felt I had to contribute to Catholic life,” said James.

“I also served 12 years as chairman of the Western Education and Library Board. In that position I was responsible for the development of education, appointing members of school boards, libraries, youth schemes and committees.

“I like to be stretched not stressed. That is why I am still on the board of governors for three schools in Derry and a keen member of St Eugene’s Cathedral choir.

“I still work in the business although I leave the heavy work to my sons. It is a great thing that the name of the company has come to mean so much in Derry.

“I once heard a story about a man going into a local shop and asking for a packed of Fox’s mints. The shopkeeper said I have no Foxes, but we do have Doherty’s mince!

“When you talk about young children being teased and called Doherty’s sausages I can only say that my own children suffered from that too, but it only goes to show that you can’t beat a good Doherty.”