#OTD in 1994 – Death of Martin “Doco” Doherty, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army, who was shot dead while attempting to prevent a bombing by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) at the Widow Scallans pub in Dublin.

Martin Doherty was born on 11 July 1958 in the Finglas area of Dublin, into a family of five brothers and six sisters. He played soccer for a club in Dunsink, in addition to Gaelic football. He joined the IRA’s Dublin Brigade following the death of ten Irish republican hunger strikers in the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

On 21 May 1994 an event was organised by Sinn Féin’s Prisoner of War Department to raise funds for the families of IRA prisoners at the Widow Scallans pub in Dublin’s Pearse Street. Doherty was working as a doorman at the pub, it was jammed upstairs. Too many people had turned up to support the Sinn Féin POW Department function. It was just after 10pm and it was estimated that over 300 people had packed into the upstairs lounge of the Widow Scallan’s pub in Dublin’s Pearse Street. The main attraction, The Irish Brigade, were in full swing when Martin ‘Doco’ Doherty, who’d been collecting the admittance fee at the upstairs door, and the others doing security that fateful night agreed that the room was too packed. It was decided to close over the front doors.

There he became suspicious of two men attempting to enter the pub carrying a holdall at 11 pm. Doherty challenged the men to prevent them entering the pub, was shot three times and later died in the hospital. Another doorman, Paddy Burke, was seriously injured when he was shot in the throat through the door of the pub after he closed it to prevent the gunmen entering. The gunmen left the scene in a car driven by a third man, leaving behind the holdall which contained an 18 lb bomb. The bomb’s detonator exploded as people attended to Doherty and the other injured doorman, but the main explosives failed to ignite. The Gardaí stated a massacre had been avoided due to the bomb failing to explode properly.

The attempted bombing was the first in Dublin since the 1970s, and Doherty was the first person killed in the Republic of Ireland by the UVF since November 1975. The UVF issued a statement claiming responsibility for the shootings and attempted bombing, saying they had “struck at the very heart of the republican movement in its own back yard” and that “the UVF would warn the IRA and the Dublin government that the Ulster people will neither be coerced nor persuaded and will remain masters of their own destiny”. Fred Cobain of the Ulster Unionist Party remarked “It was only a matter of time before loyalists went south. Dublin is having an increasing say in the affairs of Northern Ireland. The way to reverse that trend is to indulge in the same tactics as the IRA and to attack targets in the South. This may be a sign of things to come”.

The IRA issued a statement that Doherty had been a member of the organisation, saying that he “died heroically in the defence of others at Widow Scallans… his courage and quick thinking during the attack undoubtedly saved many lives”. As Doherty’s coffin was being removed from his home in Finglas a paramilitary display took place, with a ten-strong IRA colour party dressed in leather jackets and berets saluting his coffin, which was draped in the Irish Tricolour with a beret and pair of black gloves placed on top. Doherty was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, where Martin McGuinness gave the oration, stating:

We have come to bury a brave republican Volunteer… As far as I am concerned he was a freedom fighter, a freedom seeker. He was trying to bring about a democratic Ireland. The opposition parties are nothing short of Quislings and West Brits. They don’t want to talk about the causes of the conflict. Sinn Féin is trying to get all the parties involved in a Peace Process. We will not be distracted from that process.

An inquest into Doherty’s death in November 2004 returned a verdict of unlawful killing by person or persons unknown. In 2006 a Garda superintendent stated the investigation into Doherty’s death was ongoing, and that “We still have an unsolved murder and the file remains open. To date, no one has been made amenable”. Doherty’s family believe the Irish authorities are withholding key information about the case, and are demanding answers from the Irish government. Sinn Féin justice spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh pledged to raise this issue with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, stating “Clearly the Irish government has very serious questions to answer about the ability of unionist death squads, led frequently by British agents, to attack and target Irish citizens with apparent impunity in this jurisdiction”. Doherty is regarded as a martyr by Irish republicans, with the Clonakilty cumann of Sinn Féin and the Martin Doherty Republican Flute Band named after him. An annual commemoration march from the Dick McKee memorial in Finglas village to nearby Glasnevin Cemetery takes place each year.

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