7 February 2008 Edition
ALFIE DOHERTY, who died on 29 January, was laid to rest on 1 February in the Rock Cemetery, Stoneyford, County Antrim, following requiem mass in St Theresa’s Church, Glen Road, Belfast. This is an edited version of the graveside oration given by Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
AR MO shon féin agus ar son poblachtánaigh ar fud na hÉireann agus thar lear ba mhaith liom comhbhrón ó chroí a chur chuig Clann Uí Dhochartaigh ar bhás Alfie. Fear mór a bhí ann, fear flathúil, fear a sheas go hard lena chlann, lena chairde agus lena thír. Bhí sé dílis dá mhac a fuair bás ar son na hÉireann agus bhí se féin ina phoblachtánach. Tá sé imithe anois ar slí na fírinne agus mairfidh a chuimhne inár gcroíthe. Is saibhre muid uile ó bheith mar cara le Alfie.
On behalf of all true friends and admirers of Alfie Doherty, throughout Ireland and overseas – and they are legion – on behalf of Sinn Féin and on behalf of Irish republican activists everywhere, I extend our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy to Margaret and to Michael, Terence, Brendan, Róisín and Mairéad, to his 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, and to all the extended Doherty family on their great loss and ours, the passing of Alfie Doherty from this life.
This is first and foremost a sad farewell to a well-loved and loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Only his family can fully know his greatness as a family man and I will not presume to speak for them. But I hope I can speak for Alfie’s friends of republican Ireland, many of whom are gathered here today, who have also been strengthened in their beliefs and stance through knowing this man.
Alfie Doherty was born in Leeson Street, in the Lower Falls, on 9 June 1925. His father was from Limavady in County Derry. Alfie was the eldest of three children. He left school at 14. He was a volunteer ambulance driver at the time of the 1941 air raid on Belfast which killed nearly one thousand people. Alfie served his time as a floor-tiler, a job he carried out for many years.
Alfie met Margaret in Albert White’s dance hall in High Street and love blossomed. That was some 60 years ago. Alfie and Margaret have been married for 56 years and, to my observation, no two people have loved each other more. Alfie and Margaret were keen ballroom dancers and on one famous occasion they took third place representing Ireland.
Alfie and Margaret had six children: Michael, Terence, Kieran, Róisín, Mairéad and Brendan. The family moved to Andersonstown in 1954.
Alfie was a life-long republican. His cousin, Ned Maguire, took part in the IRA roof-top escape from Crumlin Road Prison in 1943. Ned’s two daughters, Dorothy Maguire, who was aged 19, and Maura Meehan, aged 30, were shot dead by the British Army in October 1971 in the Lower Falls.
Alfie was a founding member of the Prisoners’ Dependants Fund after the introduction of internment. He was a founder and for many years chairperson and then manager of the PDF Club in Andersonstown which raised money for the families of prisoners. It later became the Andersonstown Social Club – although locals still call it the PD. It was regularly raided by the British Army and RUC and Alfie was always there in the frontline. When Alfie took over it was after two previous managers, Danny Burke and Jack McCartan, had been shot dead by the British Army.
Like many others, Alfie manned the barricades in the difficult days during the early 1970s. His door was always open and his home was known as a safe house for those who needed one. Like the PD, his home also became a target for Brit raids. In October 1972 they came for Kieran, who was under 17 at the time. Alfie strenuously objected to his 16-year-old son’s arrest. He eventually got Kieran released after waking up the priest in St Agnes’s Chapel and obtaining a birth certificate to prove Kieran’s age.
Alfie and Margaret were fierce supporters of Kieran on the blanket and, though their hearts were aching, they both understood and remained solidly behind their son’s decision to go on hunger strike.
I have had the privilege of knowing Alfie and Margaret since that momentous and tragic year of 1981. We saw the election of Bobby Sands as MP in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and his death on hunger strike. There followed a general election in the 26 Counties. When Kieran was nominated to stand in Cavan/Monaghan we weighed in fully behind him. Kieran had never visited Monaghan or Cavan; very few in the constituency knew his name; but very soon we met Alfie and Margaret and we knew that if Kieran had even a fraction of their integrity, their steadfastness and their honesty then there could be no better representative of the people of our constituency.
In excess of nine thousand electors made Kieran Doherty a Teachta Dála.
It was an honour for me to be director of elections for Kieran. My colleague and friend, Councillor Charlie Boylan of Cavan, was appointed Kieran’s election agent. It was our privilege to work with Margaret and Alfie. No one can fathom the grief of loved ones in such circumstances. Alfie and Margaret bore that terrible burden with great dignity. Their strength inspired other families and it inspired all of us who were campaigning for the prisoners.
Kieran died on 2 August 1981, after 73 days on hunger strike. On the night before Kieran’s death, in a statement to the media, Alfie condemned the efforts of some to undermine the prisoners and accused them of seeking to put pressure on the prisoners and not on the British Government. He said: “My son is not a dupe; he understands clearly what he is doing and the consequences of his actions.”
Bobby, Frank, Ray, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Kevin, Kieran, Tom and Michael paid the ultimate price but ultimately they won for their comrades the rights for which they had been fighting for over five long years.
No parents can ever truly recover from the loss of a child. Alfie and Margaret were no exception. But they were sustained by the memory of their son. They were true to his memory and to the cause of Irish freedom which inspired him and for which he gave his life.
In the aftermath of the hunger strikes, Alfie became a dedicated member of the Belfast National Graves Association in which he continued to play a vital role right up to the point where his health made it impossible.
Alfie and Margaret, in their later years, enjoyed travelling together throughout Ireland. They were frequent visitors to Cavan and Monaghan but they especially liked Cushendall in the Glens. Alfie held a very special love of nature. He loved flowers and birds. He was a keen GAA enthusiast from his time as a schoolboy. They continued to enjoy dancing and Friday nights in the PD was for years the highlight of their social week.
Alfie’s illness was diagnosed a year ago. He was a very strong man both physically and spiritually and drew much comfort from his faith.
There could be no greater example of a true Irish republican than Alfie Doherty. It’s not hard, dear friends, to picture Kieran and his comrades foremost in the welcoming guard of honour that lined up for Alfie’s arrival at the gates of Heaven.
I measca laochra na hÉireann go raibh a anam dílis.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.