An extraordinary life : Derryman Raymond Rogan

In the first of a two-part feature, Raymond Rogan speaks to Brendan McDaid about his early life and how he came to represent local people and help people across the community during the Troubles. He also discusses the tragic events he witnessed first hand as he tried to get the one of the Bloody Sunday victims, Gerald Donaghey to hospital after he was shot.

Friday, 11th June 2021, 4:12 pm
Raymond Rogan has a long association with The Stardust, which he ran for many years on behalf of the parish.
Raymond Rogan has a long association with The Stardust, which he ran for many years on behalf of the parish.

Raymond Rogan is a name familiar across this city and beyond, but the man who answers to it will be known to different people for many different reasons.

At the age of 85, Raymond has led what can only be described as an extraordinary life.

He is well known from his years as a community and UN representative in the Bogside and right across the north during the Troubles, as the manager of The Stardust as well as his many roles in the St Eugene’s Parish. He is also known for tending to the dying Gerald Donaghey in the moments after the teenager was shot on Bloody Sunday and for trying to get him to hospital in his car only to be stopped and arrested himself before later being released.

Raymond and his late wife Margaret on their wedding day back in 1957.

While he has a long association with the Bogside, Raymond’s life could have been very different indeed had it not been for tragic events in his childhood. Born in the Furness area of the Lake District in England to a Derry woman and her English husband, Raymond was the youngest of 11 children.

Speaking in his home in the Abbey Street area, he recalls: “My mother and father died within six months of one another. I was four years old at the time. The younger members of the family were brought back to Derry to stay with the granny and lived in Thomas Street which is near enough this location here.

“Four of the youngest came back, three sisters; the older ones stayed across the water. I had two brothers in the Navy -one in the Royal Navy and one was in the Merchant Navy. The older brother Jimmy, who died six or seven years ago, was a submariner and he was in the first submarine that sailed the Atlantic totally underwater. When I was at school there used to be a big submarine depot ship down the quay called Stalker. Jimmy was still in the navy and he used to come in there and stay for about a month or so. I used to go down the quay and the subs were based alongside a big long pier and there was always a guard there. I remember it as well, asking for Jimmy Rogan and the guard looking at me saying, ‘How do you know him?’ and me saying ‘He’s my brother’ and him replying ‘ Get out of it!’ Then our Jimmy would could sauntering down saying, ‘That’s our kid’.”

Growing up in Derry

Gerald Donaghey.

Raymond says that growing up in Derry ‘you were deprived but you weren’t aware of it’, but he recalls one incident that brought home to him that something was wrong back in the early 1950s. “I remember the first time I really conscious of the politicisation that existed. I used to be in a pipe band and the Ancient Order of Hibernians used to book them and we’d go away for the 17th March and all the rest of it and I remember we came back one day, got out of the buses at Foyle Street, and we wanted to march up Shipquay Street and the police wouldn’t let us. I was about 12 or 13.”

As a young man Raymond finished up at school and went to England where he worked for a while and returned to his birthplace in England. Four years later he returned to Derry and it was in the city he grew up in that he met and married Margaret McIntyre from the Lecky Road in 1957. Raymond recalls how love blossomed in the most unlikely of circumstances. “We used to go to The Crit on Foyle Street on a Thursday night and I fancied this one, and I knew Margaret and all her friends and I had tried to get Margaret to get me fixed up with this other one. And then I got fixed up with Margaret!” he laughs.

The political situation reared its head again when the newlyweds looked into getting a house, but here at least, being born in England had its advantages. They wanted to a home in Blucher Street, a gable house at the top off Fahan Street and somebody told Raymond there was grants available from the City Council.

“I thought, well nothing beats a try and went down and the guy you had to see and he asked me all about where I was born and I got the grant no bother - it was unheard of but I got it. He was trying to put two and two together and came up with the wrong sum.”

The couple would go on to have five children and many happy years together, but sadly Margaret developed Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s prior to passing away 15 years ago. “I kept her at home. It’s a curse that disease. We were 48 years married and thank God I’ve a good family and they are all very supportive.”

Rewinding back, as a young married man Raymond worked at Mollins engineering company in Campsie and the couple relocated to the current family home in the heart of the Bogside. It was here that hRaymond’s career in community work was to begin. “There was always something not right, people were complaining so we formed a tenants’ association and I was elected chairman and one thing led to another and the Troubles broke out, so anybody who had any sort of status was automatically projected and the press would come to you as you were seen as a community leader.

“The then Fr Denis Bradley got the idea because of the no go area and rubbish not being collected and services not happening and the barricades, of forming the Bogside Community Association and I was elected chairman at the first meeting. I was chairman for the first two years and we really made an impact. 12,000 people took part in that vote so we had a big say, and I was working in Mollins and there wasn’t a Council then, it had been prorogued and there was a committee set up and they’d send for me at work whenever anything happened.”

Turning point

After a while, it got to the point where Raymond acknowledged to himself he would have to make a decision as he was spending more time ‘running around the streets’ than at work. He was also then approached to take a post with the United Nations Association as a sort of community worker / advisor . “I remember talking to Fr Daly at the time and he said, ‘Aye take it you’ve got what it takes, do it’. It was a big step. I got an initial two or three year contract and as it turned out my area was the whole of Northern Ireland! Nobody could put a label on me, other than ‘UN’ so everybody was looking for me.”

Raymond had the unusual distinction of being trusted by people across community and political lines. At the time there was a lot of concern over army raids on local houses, with people reporting property being stolen,residents being abused so Raymond came up with the idea of accompanying the army to make sure things were done properly as a kind of independent observer. But his remit went way beyond Derry. “There were some sad, sorrowful situations in those years and some very humorous situations. I was called out to an army search one night at Lisfannon Park, the family knew me and were glad to see me. The army were searching the house and they went into a bedroom and a woman said, ‘don’t let him waken that wain’ and what she was saying was ‘don’t let him touch that bed’. And I says ‘have a wee bit of thought the wain’s sleeping and if it wakens up she’ll have trouble getting back to sleep, it’s teething, and after the army left they made me a cup of tea and this boy came down the stairs and he said I’m glad you were here tonight; I was in that bed’.”“Every night then I as getting called up. I remember getting a phone call from welfare officer at the Maze, and the official there was saying ‘he has read about ye; saw you on TV and won’t talk to his own clergy or politicians’. He was a UVF commander. I went up and talked to him and it was a family matter. And I asked him, ‘Why me?’ and he said, ‘I’ve read about you and seen some of thing you’ve done - that’s why I trust you’.”

Raymond also recalls “a wee English man called Will Warren who belonged to a religious organisation” and who carried out welfare and community work in Derry, bringing Bishop Eames to his door as the stunned family were sitting down to breakfast.

“A couple of times then some of Will Warren’s own colleagues doing similar work in Belfast asked him for help and assistance. I had a minibus and he used to take prisoners’ families on visits to the prison and I had to use it to go up to Belfast a few times at Will’s request to get families at risk who had to get out. I still meet people I helped back then. We brought them down and organised accommodation.”

On top of all this, Raymond was also an official visitor at Magilligan prison, after the government set up a commission to monitor how prisoners were treated. “I remember couple of times the governor phoning me at 11 o’clock at night to come out, the prisoners were giving out about grub and that, and because most of the prisoners were from Derry and I knew them and they knew me he had put two and two together and got in touch.

It was a dangerous time for anyone with a public profile like Raymond Rogan did right throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, and while his wife was worried for her husband’s safety, Raymond said he never got scared, although he admits he did end up in situations that he felt were ‘dodgy’ including a meeting in the Waterside about organising a community association at the request off Glen Barr at the height of the Troubles. “Generally speaking though I never considered myself at risk I just never thought about it, it wasn’t a factor except or one or two occasions like that where you were going into an area where anything could happen. I enjoyed what I was doing. I liked doing it.”

Gerald Donaghey

One pivotal and tragic sequence of events however was to leave an indelible mark on Raymond and the community and city he lived in: Bloody Sunday. “I was on the march we came down to William Street and I saw what was happening,” Raymond recalls. “I left and went up to the house to make sure the wains were all in and there was nobody in the house apart from the family then. Then I heard the shooting.....”

Raymond, who lived on the front line, said about six or seven people piled into his house to get in out of the road. “Looking out the window you could see somebody had been shot. I went out and a couple of people helped me lay him in here,” he says indicating the floor of his living room. “He was just like a wain. He was just 17 and he looked even younger. We laid him down here. We searched him, we couldn’t find anything - the wife found a necklace, a cross round his neck. We wanted to identify him, notify his people.

“There was a doctor down at Peter Carr’s house on the corner there and he came up examined him and said, ‘He has a chance if he can be got to hospital’, and I said right get him into my car. The fellow that helped back me out of the yard sat in the back seat and young Donaghey was laid across his knees. We headed straight for the hospital.

“There wasn’t a flyover then and we were stopped by the army just past the Long Tower chapel near the top of Abercorn Road and my handbreak wasn’t great and I said to them ‘the car will run back if I get out’, and they pulled you out and we had to put our hands behind our heads and stand against the wall. I remember distinctly one soldier saying to me, ‘don’t move, one is not enough for me’. I didn’t know what he meant but it was clear he was gonna shoot me if I didn’t do what he told me.

“I kept protesting about the young fellow; we were trying to get him to hospital and he would die if we didn’t, and I kept looking over and the car was still there after about 20 to 30 minutes before they moved the car. And they didn’t take him to hospital, then took him to the camp on Foyle Road and me and this other fellow who was along with me were arrested.”

While being detained Raymond heard a bang close by and two police figures who knew him came in and  told him we was being released. “And I said, ‘what about my car?’ And one said, ‘that bang you heard that was your car, the boot of your car being blown open, there were nail bombs in that young fellow’s pocket’. I said, ‘What?’ It was a God damn lie. He had tight jeans on him, there was no way he had bombs in his pockets. And would I have brought him into my family house with nail bombs in his pocket? We had searched him to try and find any identity. Nothing. He was the only one the army and police said had weapons of any description of those that were shot. There is no way that young fellow had nail bombs in his pocket. You can see from the photographs they were squeezed in and were sticking out. There is no way you could have missed it.”

Raymond, who in more recent times spoke to MEPs about what happened in Brussels at the invitation of Martina Anderson, said he was shocked by the Saville Tribunal conclusions in relation to the teenager. “That was the biggest disappointment to me,” he said.

*In Part 2 next week Raymond remembers the various roles he played in St Eugene’s parish and his years spent developing youth services and as the boss at the legendary local venue, The Stardust.

*With special thanks to Frankie McMenamin for his research and assistance with facilitation.