Life of a Derry Nationalist

Published in Family, Personal History

Matt Doherty was born on the 12th July 1872 in 5 Thomas Street Derry, second son of John Doherty and Catherine Mc Ilroy, who were married in St Columba’s Church, Long Tower, Derry in June 1864.Catherine had been of Church of Ireland stock, from Clabby Co. Fermanagh. Her Mother is buried in the protestant side of the cemetery having been born in 1809 and died in 1889 aged 80 yrs. Her husband was called Matt Mc Ilroy, now we know where the Matt came from in our family.

At the age of 17 yrs 6 mths he joined the British Army, enlisting at Ebrington Barracks into the Leinster Regiment and it would seem that his first 2 years weren’t very happy, with charges of desertion and AWOL against him and having done a spell of confinement. After that time he was transferred to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers where he settled down to life in the military. He served in the East Indies and South Africa during which time he fought in the Boer War. Having completed his term of engagement in 1900, he returned to Derry City to take up employment at the local docks. Some time during that period after his military service he became involved in forming the Owen Roe O’Neill flute band, which lasted until the 1960’s.
Nothing further is known of his life until the Home Rule crisis in Ireland in 1912 and he became involved in the Irish National Volunteers, who were trying to force the British Governments hand into giving Home Rule to Ireland. From a letter of his published in the Derry Journal which I was able to get from a back issue he signs himself, Matthew Doherty, Commanding Officer, 3rd Batallion I.N.V.

In furtherance of their aims to achieve Home Rule, at the outbreak of World War 1 the leader of the I.N.V. John Redmond, offered their services to Britain in return for the goal of Home Rule and so towards the end of 1914 thousands of Irishmen sailed for France and what was to be a hell on earth. Matt Doherty went as well.

He was wounded in 1916 and after a term of convalescence returned to his duties at the front and survived the next 2 years only to make it home in 1919.
During his military service he was awarded the
South African War Medal with clasp “Talana” “Relief of Ladysmith”
1914/15 Star
British War Medal
Victory Medal
Portuguese Military Medal (London Gazette 5th May 1920).
On his return he once more became involved in Irish politics and was in the thick of the troubles in Derry when serious rioting and gunfire broke out
in and around the Bishop Street/Fountain area, which lasted around a week with Nationalists holed up in the St Columbs College complex, exchanging gunfire with the Unionists of that time. He is also mentioned in an infamous court case where two local men were charged with the murder of the son of a leading Derry Unionist from Braehead just outside the city who went by the name of Howard McKay. He went alibi for both individuals and due to his standing in the community and his integrity having done substantial military service, his word was taken and both men were found not guilty. This event was to be the closing chapter of Matt Doherty’s life as he died within a month of the trial at the age of 52 from a respiratory complaint he had suffered from for a number of years as a result of his time in France and exposure to gas attacks at that time.
His funeral was also a large event with two bands in attendance and a large gathering of people

Ivor J Doherty.

Grandson to written subject,enthusiastic local historian and genealogist.


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