Patrick Doherty, a man his son describes as ‘a great father,’ was murdered on Bloody Sunday, shot from behind, as he tried to crawl to safety.
The picture on front of today’s Derry Journal, taken by Gilles Peress, shows Paddy Walsh lying on the ground, bravely staying with the father-of-six as he died. Fifty years on, the image and act of bravery still stops you in your tracks.
When Tony looks at the timeline of his own life, there is ‘definitely’ a ‘before and after’ Bloody Sunday - the before a young, happy child living an ‘idyllic life’ with his parents and siblings and the after saw a boy left devastated and angry by the loss of his father in horrific circumstances.
Tony, who is chairperson of The Bloody Sunday Trust and the Museum of Free Derry, spoke to the ‘Journal’ ahead of the anniversary this weekend and said it could be argued that his family ‘never really recovered’ from their immeasurable loss.
“Before my father was killed, we were a family of six children and two parents - the youngest six months and the oldest was my sister who was 12. We were a typical, Nationalist, Catholic, working class family living in the Brandywell. We had no worldly goods, really, in comparison to what people have today, but we didn’t realise it.
“We lived in impoverished circumstances, but so did everyone else. In some sense, we had a very idyllic childhood and family life. There was nothing to rock the boat or really bother us - not even the poverty, which you can see, looking back, but that was just endemic and you had nothing to compare it to.
“But, the loss of my father had a huge impact and the loss of all the people on Bloody Sunday had a huge impact on their immediate and extended families and Derry as a whole. But for us, as a family, it was a huge loss and you might argue that we’ve never recovered from it. It’s difficult to put the pieces back together when there is a huge piece missing.”
For Tony, growing up as the son of Patrick Doherty became a large part of his identity and as he grew older, he became ‘angrier’.
“I grew up from 1972 onwards with, I suppose, in a sense, a marked man in terms of ideas and notions I would have as a child about taking revenge. When I was 10, I remember talking to my aunt about joining the IRA and she laughed at me and told me I had to be 16 to join up and said: ‘Sure, it’ll be long over by the time you’re 16.’
“When you think of that statement, in terms of people’s expectations at the time. My generation grew up in an occupied city, a heavily militarised city and with the British Army and RUC on the streets.”
Tony added how, following his father’s death his family was marked as an ‘IRA family,’ something they did not know at the time.
“Our house was raided regularly after Bloody Sunday. We were marked as an IRA family as my father was killed on Bloody Sunday and by extension, was then considered by the security forces as a member of the IRA.
“When a new regiment came to town, they’d either sit outside watching us coming in and out, or raid the house and it was the same for quite a number of the other families too.”
Tony explained how, as he grew older, he began to find out more about how his father was killed and would have been ‘15 or 16 before I had a reasonably good assemblage of all the facts around father’s death and Bloody Sunday, in a wider sense’.
“I would have rioted all the time and there would have been a lot of anger in me and in many people at that time.
“By 12 or 13, I would have been an expert rioter, as we all were and I grew up in that context of street confrontations and rioting. I draw a straight line between what happened on Bloody Sunday in 1972 and me joining the IRA in 1980.”
Tony later went on to write three memoirs about his experiences growing up, his years in prison and the campaign for a new enquiry - ‘This Man’s Wee Boy;’ ‘The Dead Beside Us’ and ‘The Skelper and Me,’ the latest in 2019.
He said the memoirs helped him to rediscover memories of his father and their relationship.
“He was, in many respects, a very ordinary man. He spent a fair bit of the 1960s working in England, as he couldn’t get employment here, but was then employed in Du Pont, up until the time of his death. He was a great family man - quite religious in that I certainly remember going to Mass when no-one else had to go to Mass - like on Holy days and retreats.
“ He was very loving, but also strict in terms of how he felt we should be brought up and the principles he upheld. But, he was a great father, I have to say and I don’t know a single person who had a bad word to say about him,
“He was genuinely a happy character, well liked by the Brandywell community and viewed by many of his contemporaries at the time as a great friend.”
Through the memoirs, Tony ‘really enjoyed getting to know’ his father again and found the process ‘cathartic’.
“It sounds a bit of a cliche, but I enjoyed exploring what the relationship was, what type of man he was and also talking to family members about stories from childhood. I think my Da would be proud of what I’ve written. He was a man of his time and my mother, as well, she died in 2014 and I think she’d be proud too of what I’ve written.
“I just presented normal life of a Brandywell family living in very idyllic circumstances and then in tragic and post tragic circumstances so that other people can see what it was like, how it happened and how we got on with life as best as possible.”
Like many other families, the 50th anniversary stirs many emotions for Tony, who said he is approaching it with ‘mixed feelings’.
“50 years on, I’d be very regretful and philosophical about the loss of my father. It’s now a 50 year fact and in some days you literally have to get on with it and, other days, you’re nearly questioning if it happened.
“Even though all this time has passed, that’s the way an event or loss like this leaves people.
“I think my overriding feeling is one of pride in terms of the resilience and personal resilience among the families in having overcome the huge injustices on their road, right along this last 50 years.
“I think, as we always say, Bloody Sunday is behind us but it’s also in front of us and that’s just a cold statement in the cold light of day and I think the families and people of Derry have stood up to the mark and have exposed the huge tragedy that the massacre was and the huge travesty that followed it in terms of the Widgery Report, and how that, by and large, dictated the knowledge and views of what happened that day. And, through our own endeavours and working with people like John Hume and Martin McGuinness to have the second enquiry and all that followed from there,I think those are things I’m very proud of and the families, I’m sure, are very proud of. It’s obviously not over and the ongoing issue of justice remains to be dealt with and how that happens is anyone’s guess at this stage.”
Tony added how 50 years is a 50 years is a “long time to be associated with a massacre and the injustice that ensued and it’s also a long time to wait for truth and justice”.
“I think we’ve now found a lot of the truth and a lot of the truth we didn’t have before the second enquiry was initiated. The journey was difficult and necessary and was also enjoyable, at times, because of the familiar camaraderie and unity, but it can be tiring, over the years.
A lot of the children and nephews and nieces of families are now in their 50s and 60s and 70s and it can be a bit of a burden, but I think most people see it as an enduring , necessary burden,”