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21 May 2009 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Brave Volunteer prevents mass murder

By Mícheál Mac Donncha

In May 1994 the Irish Peace Process was in its most delicate early stages with the Irish Government, Sinn Féin and the SDLP moving towards political progress which would lead, later that year, to the first IRA cessation. But set against the process were powerful forces, not least British military intelligence and their loyalist surrogates.
On 21 May those forces came to Dublin city, intent on death and destruction on a large scale. That Saturday night the Sinn Féin Prisoner of War Department was holding a fund-raising function at the Widow Scallan’s pub on Pearse Street. The upstairs venue was packed with around 300 people. Having earlier collected admittance fees at the door, Martin Doherty went downstairs to the public bar. There he noticed two men acting suspiciously and followed them out onto the street.
One of the men carried a gun and the other placed a bag in the stair-well below the function room. Martin Doherty grappled with the gunman who shot him in the hand. He was knocked to the ground by the second man and the gunman then shot Martin Doherty dead. The attackers were picked up in a getaway car which was later found burnt out in Aldborough Place, an obscure lane in the North Strand area.
It was found that the bag left in the pub contained a bomb, the detonator of which exploded after the shooting. But for Martin Doherty’s intervention scores of people would have been killed, which was clearly the attackers’ intention. Those who knew ‘Doco’ were shocked and saddened by the tragedy but were not surprised at the courageous action of this Volunteer of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade.
Martin ‘Doco’ Doherty was born in 1958 and was a native of Finglas, a popular member of a large family and of his local community. He joined the IRA in the wake of the Hunger Strike of 1981. In 1982 he was imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. Released in 1988, he immediately reported back to the IRA and volunteered for active service in Britain. The British authorities tried and failed to secure a conviction against him and he was served with an exclusion order from Britain and the Six Counties. Back in Dublin he remained active in the IRA.
Thousands attended Martin Doherty’s funeral from his home in Finglas to his grave in Glasnevin Cemetery where the oration was given by Martin McGuinness. In the Dáil Fine Gael leader John Bruton protested at the fact that a republican guard of honour accompanied the cortege. He used the attack on the Widow Scallan’s to argue against the dialogue between Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and Sinn Féin, as did Mary Harney of the PDs. Most contemptible of all was Michael McDowell, one of the TDs for Dublin South East, which includes Pearse Street, who objected to the holding of republican functions in the constituency.
Such right-wing politicians played into the hands of those who attempted to bomb the Widow Scallan’s and who killed Martin Doherty. The attack needs to be seen in the context of efforts to strangle the Peace Process at birth. RUC Chief Hugh Annesley had earlier warned ominously of loyalist bomb attacks in the 26 Counties.
In their statement claiming responsibility for the attack, the UVF said they had overcome the setback of the capture of an arms shipment from Poland bound for them in Teesport in the north of England in 1993. But the Teesport affair was a British intelligence operation from start to finish, as revealed in the Irish Press at the time, and confirmed by the Polish authorities.
On 18 August 1994 the IRA executed Dublin criminal boss Martin Cahill and stated that they had done so because he was involved closely with the Portadown-based UVF gang which carried out the Widow Scallan’s attack. Cahill and the UVF gang had co-operated in criminal activities including drug-dealing and the IRA said that this collaboration had endangered the lives of people in Dublin.
IRA Volunteer Martin ‘Doco’ Doherty was shot dead, having prevented a bomb massacre at the Widow Scallan’s pub on 21 May 1994, 15 years ago this week.

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.

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