Tony Doherty’s memoirs a ‘quest to honour lost father

Tony on the landing of C Wing, Crumlin Road Prison
Tony on the landing of C Wing, Crumlin Road Prison

The final instalment of Tony Doherty’s memoirs have been described as a ‘quest to find and honour his lost father’, who was shot and killed on Bloody Sunday.

‘The Skelper and Me: A Memoir of Making History in Derry’ was launched in the Guildhall earlier this month.

Tony Doherty signing his new book The Skelper and Me in his old'home of Cell 5 C Wing Crumlin Road Prison where he spent most of 1981

Tony Doherty signing his new book The Skelper and Me in his old'home of Cell 5 C Wing Crumlin Road Prison where he spent most of 1981

In it, Tony reflects on his time in prison in the early 1980s, his return to Derry in 1985 and his leading role in the long campaign to secure truth and justice surrounding Bloody Sunday.

The Skelper and Me’ is the final chapter in Tony’s trilogy of memoirs which started back in 2016 with ‘This Man’s Wee Boy’ and which was followed in 2017 with ‘The Dead Beside Us’.

The new book, published by Mercier Press, has been hailed as “no ordinary memoir”.

Speaking at the recent book launch in Derry’s Guildhall, the journalist, commentator and author Susan McKay said writers are drawn to the silences that follow atrocities.

Tony Doherty and his wife Stephanie at the book launch in the Guildhall

Tony Doherty and his wife Stephanie at the book launch in the Guildhall

“There is a silence that follows an atrocity, a communal silence that fills a place that has been hollowed out by a violent outrage that has left people dead and those who loved them irrevocably hurt. It is a silence full of the voices of the dead.

“I remember that silence after Bloody Sunday in Derry, after British paratroopers had killed 13 men, including Tony Doherty’s young father as they marched for the civil rights their community had been denied since the setting up of the State. I remember it in Enniskillen after the IRA killed 11 men and women on Remembrance Sunday as they commemorated those from the town who died in the first and second world wars.”

Ms McKay added: “I heard it again in the days after the New IRA killed Lyra McKee in this city in April this year.”

Susan, who writes for publications including the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Observer, the London Review of Books and the Irish Times, and has made television and radio documentaries, said that ‘writers are drawn to such silences’.

Tony with Professor Christine Bell of Edinburgh University at the launch

Tony with Professor Christine Bell of Edinburgh University at the launch

“The murder of his father when Doherty was a nine-year old boy was a catastrophe for him - but through his search for the meaning of what happened Doherty has overcome what might have destroyed him and become a fine writer. He still has a child’s eye, the ability to see the world clearly with a heart blown open.”

She said that his trilogy of memoirs ‘have been a quest, to find his lost father and to honour him.’

“Like many other young men in Derry after 1972 he joined the IRA, bombed his own city, and went to prison. Again, a personal tragedy - but he used the time to hone his writing skills. There was plenty of time to observe and to listen.”

She told the assembled audience that the book ‘really comes into it’s own’ when Tony returns home to Derry following his release from prison.

Tony Doherty and his wife Stephanie at the book launch in the Guildhall

Tony Doherty and his wife Stephanie at the book launch in the Guildhall

“There is immense love and respect and good humour in Doherty’s depiction of his extended family and his community. He captures the hard graft of the campaign for justice led by the Bloody Sunday families as well as the idealism, and the joy when the Saville Inquiry vindicated his father and the others. He recognises the suffering and resilience of women.”

Ms McKay made further reference to the murder of her friend Lyra McKee in the city earlier this year and said Tony ‘agrees with my assertion that Lyra McKee did not die for Irish freedom, that in fact she was Irish freedom’.

The respected journalist said ‘this book is an honourable addition to our understanding of the bloody years behind us. It calls on us to pursue a new vision of our city and our society in the years to come.’

As well as the event in the Guildhall, Tony’s book was also launched in Crumlin Road jail, where he was imprisoned in the 1980s.