Two years ago this week, Geraldine Doherty stood shoulder to shoulder with fellow Bloody Sunday campaigners on the steps of the Guildhall and declared her uncle’s innocence to the world. Few could have realised how courageous a step this was as her uncle Gerald Donaghey was, in fact, the only person left with a ‘stain’ upon his character in the long-awaited Bloody Sunday Report...
Geraldine Doherty hopes it may re-open the debate surrounding her uncle’s case.
For 38 long years, Geraldine’s heartbroken mother Mary Doherty (nee Donaghey) had battled to clear her baby brother’s name. Mary had been to the forefront of the subsequent Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, but sadly she would not live to see Gerald fully exonerated. Devastated by Lord Saville’s contentious ruling on her brother, Mary passed away just months after the report was published.
Geraldine still finds it difficult to talk about her mum and how much the cause meant to her. Indeed, a deeply personal account she penned in the new booklet conveys just how much the massacre of Bloody Sunday had impacted on all their lives.
“I really needed to get the human side across. I’m sure people still think to themselves ‘Gerald Donaghey - that’s the wee fella with the nail-bombs’ and they don’t know the whole story so that’s why this booklet is so important. I promised my mum I wouldn’t give up.”
Gerald Donaghey was just 17-years-old when he was murdered on Bloody Sunday. He had been on the civil rights march with two close friends, Donncha and Conal McFeely. Their lives would never be the same.
“When Gerald died, his best friend Donncha could see the pain and hurt of my mother and so, in a way, he tried to protect her and take over that brotherly role. You could see that close bond that existed between them. On the day the Bloody Sunday Report came out, Donncha was so heartbroken at the thought of my mother’s reaction, he couldn’t even speak.”
Gerald Donaghey had been adopted by the Donaghey family from an early age and his sister Mary loved him like no other. When tragedy suddenly struck their home, Mary became a surrogate mother too.
“My granny and granddad actually died within four weeks of each other when Gerald was only ten,” Geraldine reveals. “The wider family considered putting him back in the home and my mother flatly refused. No way, she said, he had to stay with her. So she took over the mothering role when she was only 19 years-old.”
Geraldine never had the opportunity to meet her uncle and namesake, having been born in 1973 one year after Bloody Sunday.
“It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I asked my mum why she always went out every January with a wreath and she told me I had an uncle who died on Bloody Sunday. I was probably eight or nine years-old then. I never met Gerald, but it’s all those wee stories my mother told me that I keep and cherish about how he was a loveable fella, really caring, and happy go-lucky. They were so close.”
Mary Doherty had been one of the core campaigners during the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign.
“Every week, Mickey McKinney would collect me and my mum and Kay Duddy to go to the campaign meetings in West End Park where we sat freezing around a wee heater wondering what we could do and coming up with ideas,” Geraldine recalls. “What I remember most now is the sheer perseverance of everyone. No matter how many knocks we got, we just got up and carried on - there was no stopping us.
“I don’t think any of us imagined we would get this far, though. It wasn’t until we got solicitors involved and the British Government announced we could have our inquiry and we thought, oh my God, this is it! This is history in the making. The day it was announced we all walked from the Trinity Hotel up the Strand Road together to let the people of Derry know. People in the crowd were saying ‘they’ve got their inquiry! They’ve got it!’” I’ll never forget the feeling and the buzz of that day.”
Despite the expansive Bloody Sunday Inquiry that was to span ten years and cost almost £200 million, Geraldine always harboured a fear that her uncle would be used as a scapegoat.
“I was never hopeful,” she says. “My mother always said that Gerald would be used as a fall-guy, as did Donncha and Conal McFeely, and they were right. They used him as a scapegoat just like we had always feared.”
By the time the Bloody Sunday report was published on 15 June 2010, Mary Doherty was 64 years-old and terminally ill. Geraldine attended the pre-read of the report in her mother’s place, accompanied by Gerald’s best friend, Donncha McFeely. Geraldine was terrified.
“I had gone in with Donncha because my mother just wasn’t strong enough to go,” she remembers. “She knew they would use him as a fall-guy. And she was right. It was bad enough the first time with Widgery [the 1972 report], but the second time was just soul-destroying. That day, Saville’s report killed my mother, it just destroyed her. You could literally see the fight had left her.”
Geraldine struggles to keep her tears back when recalling how her mother took the dreaded news.
“I looked at Patricia Coyle, the solicitor, and said to her ‘what about the nail-bombs’ and she just said, ‘no, Geraldine - but he has his declaration of innocence.’ I remember saying ‘how am I going to tell my mother this?’ I just didn’t know how I could break that news to her. Then mammy came up in the lift and I’ll never forget the moment when those lift doors opened - she just knew. She said ‘it’s not good’ and I put my arms around her and said, ‘mammy, it’s good and bad. He’s got his declaration of innocence but they left the nail-bombs. She was just heartbroken.”
Mary wanted to go home immediately, but first Geraldine had to face the 10,000 strong crowd waiting patiently outside.
“My mother told me to go out and do our part. It wouldn’t have been in our nature to put a dampener on that day or on the other families’ victory. She was so over the moon for the others.”
Few can imagine the courage it took for Geraldine to brave those jubilant crowds, but looking back, Geraldine doesn’t feel so brave.
“I was so nervous I froze, but I knew I had to do it. So I went out with all the others and said that Gerald had been declared innocent. It wouldn’t have been fair to mention the nail-bombs and nobody really knew at that stage about Saville’s ruling. We didn’t want to take the shine off so many others, so I said my part - not what I wanted to say in my heart - but at least that he was innocent.”
Geraldine and Donncha had prepared an earlier piece. “Our original statement said ‘This report does not say my uncle had nail-bombs only that he might have. The possibility that the nail-bombs were planted could not be eliminated by Saville. What the Saville Inquiry does say is that my uncle was murdered by Soldier G as he was trying to get away to safety from soldiers who had just murdered Jim Wray and William McKinney.’”
However, when she saw the euphoria outside, Geraldine left out any mention of the nail-bombs. It was the right thing to do.
“There was no way we were going to rain on everyone’s parade,” she says.
“I was just numb and wanted to get it all over with. I wanted to get my mother home. She did get comfort from Gerald’s declaration of innocence, but heartbroken about the nail-bombs, but she had so much respect for the other families she wouldn’t dream of ruining their day.
“That’s the kind of woman she was. Even when she was diagnosed with cancer she carried on, and I really believe it was the campaign that kept my mother going. She never complained once, she just got on with it. The doctor once told me that they couldn’t understand how my mother was still living, that she should have been dead three years ago, and I just knew it was the thought of Bloody Sunday and getting answers that had kept her going all that time.”
‘It destroyed her’
Mary Doherty’s heath declined rapidly after the report was published. “From that day on, you could see her going downhill,” Geraldine remembers.
“It just destroyed her and she was gone within five months of the report going out.
“The other families were actually in Westminster when the news came through that my mother had died and it was announced in Parliament that she had passed away. She would have been so honoured that they thought so highly of her to announce it there of all places.”
“Just before she died, she said to me ‘Geraldine you keep fighting, you get out there and make sure you get Gerald’s name cleared properly,’ and I promised my mother I would. She would have been so proud to see how many people came to the launch and who still believed in Gerald’s innocence. I’m just glad we have fulfilled our promise to her...”