A dedicated republican and an outstanding soldier


A profile of republican hero Kieran Doherty who died on hunger strike at Long Kesh jail on August 2nd, 1981, thirty years ago this week.

When the family, friends and former comrades of Belfast IRA Volunteer twenty-five-year-old Kieran Doherty learnt that he was joining the H-Block hunger strike, as a replacement for Raymond McCreesh, it came as
no surprise to them.
Although Kieran had spent seven of the last ten years imprisoned, his complete selflessness and his relentless dedication to the liberation struggle left no-one in any doubt that Kieran would volunteer for this
terrible and lonely confrontation with British rule inside the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. Last December he was amongst those thirty prisoners who were on hunger strike for four days prior to the ending of the original
seven-strong strike.
Kieran was born on October 16th, 1955 in Andersonstown, the third son in
a family of six children. His two elder brothers, Michael, aged 28, and
Terence, aged 27, were interned between 1972 and 1974.

Kieran has two younger sisters, Roisin and Mairead; and his younger
brother, Brendan, aged twelve, is still at school.


Kieran’s mother, Margaret, is a Catholic convert from a Protestant
background. His father, Alfie Doherty, who is a floor-tiler by trade, is
a well-known figure in Andersonstown.

Kieran’s paternal grandfather comes from Limavady, County Derry, and
after his people moved to a house in North Belfast in the ‘twenties,
they were threatened that the house was going to be burnt.

This was during the loyalist-initiated pogroms which followed partition.

They had to flee to West Belfast enacting a tragedy which was to repeat
itself in front of Kieran’s eyes in the early seventies, and stir him to
take action.

Alfie’s uncle, Ned Maguire, took part in the famous IRA roof-top escape
from Belfast’s Crumlin Road jail on January 15th, 1943.

Ned Maguire’s son, also called Ned, and a second cousin of Kieran, was
an internee in Cage S of Long Kesh in 1974, when he took part in the
mass escape from the camp during which Hugh Coney was shot dead by the
British army. Young Ned Maguire was one of the three who managed to
reach Twinbrook before being recaptured. He is now on the blanket.

Ned’s sisters (and Kieran’s second cousins), Dorothy Maguire, aged 19,
and Maura Meehan, aged 30, were shot dead by the British army on October
23rd, 1971, in a car in the Lower Falls area of Belfast. Both were
members of Cumann na mBan.

Another relative of Kieran’s, his uncle, Gerry Fox, was part of the
famous Crumlin Road jail ‘football team’, who escaped from the jail by
climbing over the wall in 1972.


However, Kieran’s childhood was relatively ordinary. He loved sport more
than anything else, and was always out playing Gaelic football, hurling
or soccer.

Kieran went to St. Theresa’s primary school, then moved to the Christian
Brothers secondary school on the Glen Road, where he studied until the
age of sixteen.

A keen Gaelic footballer, he won an Antrim Minor medal in 1971 for St.
Theresa’s GAC.

Kieran took up cycling for a while, following his brother, Michael, in
St. Thomas’ cycling club. His mother recalls him taking part in a race
with a faulty bicycle: “Although the chain came off at least twenty
times through the race, he was so stubborn that he finished with a
bronze medal.”

St. Thomas’ cycling club was later decimated by internment. Kieran, his
brothers, and many other Andersonstown boys were to end up behind the
wire. To such an extent, that Kieran s young brother, Brendan, asked his
mother one day in 1975 when it would be his turn to go where all the
‘big boys’ were kept. Brendan was then six.

In the summer of 1971, Kieran got a job as an apprentice in heating
engineering but was laid-off when the firm closed down a few months
later. He worked for a while at floor-tiling with his father.


In the meantime, however, internment had burst open the lives of many
Andersonstown families. Kieran had never been interested in politics
until then: nor had his family ever discussed the political situation in
front of him.

Like hundreds of other boys and girls of his age, he was moved by the
sight of uprooted families leaving a home in cinders behind them. As all
of the evacuees were being catered for in local schools, Kieran and his
brothers begged their parents to allow them to go and help. Kieran saw
the British army on the streets, his friends and their families
harassed. He joined na Fianna Eireann in the autumn of ’71.

Kieran proved himself to be an outstanding member of the Fianna.
Reliable, quick on the job, he was obviously giving the best of himself
to every task assigned him with the aim of being noticed and recruited
for the IRA as quickly as was possible.

Even at this early stage of his involvement, he is remembered for his
initiative and his discreet ways. Unlike some boys of his age, he never
boasted about his activities.

But the British army soon noticed him too and Kieran, his family, and
his home, became a target for frequent British army harassment.

On October 6th, 1972, the British army came to arrest Kieran, despite
his father’s objection that Kieran was under seventeen. The Brits had
checked up, they said, and after a heavy house raid they took Kieran
away in the middle of the night. His father got him released eventually
after waking up the sexton of St. Agnes’ chapel and obtaining Kieran’s
birth certificate.

The Brits were ten days too early.

True to form, on October 16th, the British army were back in force and
swamped Kieran’s district, waiting for his return from work. But
relatives managed to warn him and he was driven over the border to an
uncle in Limerick.

He did not much enjoy his enforced exile and, bursting to get back into
action, he made his way back to Belfast at the beginning of ’73.


A week or so later, he was arrested, taken to Castlereagh, and then
interned in Long Kesh where he spent over two years from February ’73 to
November ’75. He was among the last internees released.

Always even-tempered and quiet-spoken he used his time developing his
military skills.

In a letter to his mother he wrote: “They might intern all of us, but we
will come out fighting.”

He made a lot of handicrafts during his two-and-a-half years in

His parents’ home displays a lot of his work, in particular a
hand-carved wooden plaque commemorating Dorothy Maguire and Maura

On the eve of his birthday in October ’74, Long Kesh prison camp was
burned. When visits were eventually resumed he did not complain to his
parents of brutality but just remarked jokingly on the ‘birthday party’
he had been given.

He was released from Long Kesh in November ’75, as undaunted as he
sounded in his letters, and reported back to the IRA immediately. Always
eager to operate, he was included in a team of Volunteers from around
Rossnareen which gave the British army in Andersonstown many sleepless
nights until a wave of arrests in the summer of ’76.

As the IRA/British army truce petered out at the beginning of ’76, ‘Big
Doc’, as he was known by all, soon had to move out of his parents’
house. Raids were a fortnightly occurrence, at least, with furniture
wrecked and floorboards lifted.

Mrs. Doherty was tidying up a first-floor bedroom after such a raid when
she fell through the carpet, the floor, and partly through the
sitting-room ceiling. The Brits had omitted to replace the floorboards.
The scar on the ceiling can still be seen.

Many friends who met Kieran after his internment period found him
extremely mature for a lad of twenty, not boisterous like most people of
his age. He obviously, by then, had thought things out, made a definite
choice, and assessed the dangers.

As an operator he was a perfectionist and his comrades recall feeling
extremely safe with him. Even in the eventuality of things going wrong
they knew Kieran would not give anything away.


He had many narrow escapes.

One night, as he was shifting ‘gear’ in Andersonstown, he was chased up
and down the side streets for over five minutes by two Brit landrovers.

Another time, as he was driving to a night job as security man for a
firm, armed, as he often was, he drove into a British army road block.

He calmly took his tie out of his pocket, put it on, tidied himself up,
and, winding down the window, shouted: “What’s up lads? Let me through,
please, I’m going to my work, over there, security staff.”

And the British soldiers opened the way for him. ‘Big Doc’ was welcome
in many Andersonstown homes and highly respected by all who knew him.

Families with whom he billeted remember how security conscious he was,
staying away for days, using billets in no regular pattern.


Through those months of intense involvement Kieran had little chance to
unwind. He mostly liked to go to local clubs for a quiet pint with a few

He also had a reputation as a practical joker. One day he rang a friend
from a pub and told him they were wrecking the place, simply to have his
friend rush over in his car to pick him up.

In July ’76, a few weeks before his arrest, Kieran enjoyed one of the
rare holidays he ever had since the arrival of British troops on his
local streets. With a few close friends he drove to the South and was
able to indulge in his love for outdoor activities, exhausting his
friends with long walks and swims.

By that time he had met his girlfriend, Geraldine, the only steady
relationship he ever formed during his short period of freedom.

They did not get much of a chance, as Kieran’s heavy republican
involvement often interfered with their dating and since August ’76 they
only met for a few minutes once in a while under the gaze of prison


Kieran’s comrades-in-arms recall one particular operation, of the many
he was involved in, when one Andersonstown Volunteer – Sean McDermott –
was shot dead.

Kieran got away and was told to lie low for a few days, but nevertheless
he appeared at his comrade’s funeral.

Sean McDermott’s mother has a photograph of the funeral cortege in which
Kieran can be seen, standing on the footpath, sombre, alone, looking on
as the coffin is carried to Milltown cemetery.

Sean’s death, and the arrest of other comrades involved, hit Kieran very


In August ’76, as Kieran and his unit were on a bombing mission, the van
in which they were travelling was chased by the RUC near Balmoral Avenue
in Belfast.

Kieran got out of the van and commandeered a car, which he left some
streets away and walked off.

Meanwhile, the others in the van were cornered, Liam White being
captured immediately, and the others, Chris Moran, Terry Kirby and John
‘Pickles’ Pickering – himself later to embark on hunger-strike – finally
giving themselves up when surrounded in a house they had taken over.

The RUC picked Kieran up one-and-a-half miles away from the scene,

He was later charged with possession of firearms and explosives and
commandeering the car. Forensic tests could not link Kieran to the first
two charges, and although it was impossible for the RUC to have spotted
him escaping, seventeen months later, at his trial, RUC Constable Bryons
perjured himself twice in order to see Kieran locked up.

On remand in Crumlin Road jail he met Francis Hughes and developed a
great admiration for him. Friends often speak of the similarities
between the two, always defiant, always fighting, born free.

In Crumlin Road, Kieran was often ‘on the boards’ as punishment for his
refusal to acknowledge the warders in any way. He carried this attitude
into the H-Blocks after he was sentenced, in January 1978, to eighteen
years imprisonment for possession, and four years for commandeering the


Kieran joined the blanket protest immediately as did his comrades
sentenced with him. He spent all but two weeks of his three years and
almost eight months in the H-Blocks, in H4-Block (the temporary spell
was in H6), before being moved to the prison hospital during his hunger

Recollections of Kieran’s experiences in the H-Blocks give an impression
of relentless conflict between himself and the warders, who made him a
target both because of his height and because of his stubborn defiance
of the prison regime.

On ‘appeal’ visits he always had to be dragged away, ignoring all calls
to end the visit. He never looked a warder in the face when one
addressed him and never replied to their orders. He always refused to
submit to the anal searches over the mirror before and after visits and
was beaten for this.

The worst incident occurred in July ’78 when Kieran refused a mirror
search before a legal visit. Eight warders jumped on him, one squeezing
his testicles until he became unconscious. He received blows to every
part of his body and was taken to the prison hospital.

Although people who visited him recall how often he arrived pale or with
grazes on his arms or bloodshot eyes, he never complained, brushing
their questions off with a shrug: “I’m OK. What’s the sceal?”


Although Kieran had not been taught Irish at school, and had no time to
learn it, later he became a fluent speaker in the H-Blocks like hundreds
of his imprisoned comrades.

Another skill mastered by Kieran, whilst in the H-Blocks, was playing
chess – crude chess men were made from scraps of paper and the game was
played on a mock board scratched out on the cell floors.

Displayed proudly in his parents’ sitting room is an engraved plaque
bearing a stunning yet heartbreaking story in eight words: ‘Kieran
Doherty, 1980 Champion, Ciaran Nugent Chess Shield’.

And, next to it, another shield, again engraved ‘Ciaran Nugent Chess
Shield’, but this time with twelve metal tags, the top of which bears
Kieran Doherty’s name and ‘1980, the other eleven still blank. A clue
to Kieran’s patience and ability, a clue to the blanket men’s grim
determination to outlast the H-Blocks.


In June of this year, in the Free State general election, Kieran was
elected a member of the Leinster House parliament for the Cavan/Monaghan
constituency with 9,121 first preference votes – only 303 votes behind
the then-sitting Free State Minister of Education.


To a friend who visited him after the first hunger strike, which ended
last December, Kieran said: “They (the warders) are really rubbing our
noses in it. By God, they will not rub mine!”

Asked whether he would not settle down – after all, with five years done
and remission, another six years would soon be over. He replied:
“Remission has nothing to do with it. There is much more than that

So he went on hunger strike on Friday, May 22nd, having put his name
forward for it long ago, as undaunted and full of fighting spirit as
when he roamed free on the streets of Andersonstown.

A child, like hundreds of others a product of British brutality and
stupidity in the North, who revealed himself to be an outstanding
soldier of the republic.

Kieran was a shy, reserved, easily-embarrassed young man who was
single-minded and determined enough to have become, in himself, a
condensed history of the liberation of a people.

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