Nobody Knows The Troubles I’ve Seen

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Shane Paul O’Doherty, aged 18, on the run in London, 1972

Repentant IRA bomber Shane Paul O’Doherty went on the Ray D’arcy Show on RTÈ Radio 1 yesterday to discuss his life growing up on the ‘wrong side of the border’and why he turned to violence.

In a lengthy, compelling interview Mr O’Doherty, who took to religion in Long Kesh, addresses ‘misconceptions’ about when the Troubles began, questions the role – if any –  of the 1966 Easter Rising commemorations in luring young men to the IRA and speculates on the organisation’s most famous ‘non-member.

Grab a tay.

Ray D’Arcy: “My next guest, Shane Paul O’Doherty received 30 life sentences for his bombing campaigns with the IRA in 1975. Seeing his victims in court sent him on a journey of discovery through years of studying the Bible and corresponding with his Bishop, he found the truth he’d been looking for in the isolation of his solitary cell. Today, he’s still atoning for his actions. How’re you doing Shane?”

Shane Paul O’Doherty: “Who wrote that Ray?”

D’Arcy: “Will wrote it. You were the subject would you believe of a documentary on Sunday night?”

O’Doherty: “I accidentally emailed Roger Childs – “

D’Arcy: “…Who is the Head of Religious Programmes at RTÉ”

O’Doherty: “ – about six months ago, I said Roger, ‘Can you think outside the box, can you make a sexy, different play about Kevin Barry about his last few weeks?’ So, it worked out that we got a documentary about me writing a play about Kevin Barry and more, and more of my story than I really wished – because, I mean I’ve had this book out about donkeys years – that I’ve brought you a copy of and one for Will, there isn’t a copy for everyone in the audience.”

D’Arcy: “Thanks Shane. Well, I watched that and I watched Peter Taylor’s documentary, which was made in 1989, in which he spoke to your four brothers and your ma – it’s very fascinating and the interesting thing was that you wrote a letter when you were nine, which said, ‘When I grow up I want to fight and if necessary die for Ireland’s Freedom’. Signed Shane Paul. Well, you were nine – in 1965.”

O’Doherty: “Yeah, well I was 10. I had been reading books about Irish history for years, there was a real library at home and I somehow got stuck into books on Irish history, with you know the terrible sorrows of Irish history, and you know there was one book there – ‘Speeches from the Dock’ – an old book, I’ve still got copies of it yet. and I was fired up as a kid, you know, as someone who was reading from a very young age, my Da was a teacher in the Christian Brothers, he was a great man for reading and I had read so much about Irish history that i was overwhelmed by its tragedies and I had a notion, you know that I wanted to grow up and fight for Ireland – to die for Ireland. But the interesting thing was when I was being interrogated by the RUC much later, having been arrested during the cease-fire in ’75 – they raced in with great glee at one point in the interrogation and showed me this – and I was more embarrassed by that note…”

D’Arcy: “…that you’d written as a nine year-old.”

O’Doherty: “…than I was being embarrassed about being captured. So embarrassed by it.”

D’Arcy: “So they were using that as evidence against you?”

O’Doherty: “Ah well, I’d say it was intended to cause me embarrassment. You know, what a D Head you are – we’ve captured you, you know?”

D’Arcy: “But like, that was 1965, so the Civil Rights marches started in 1968?”

O’Doherty: “No, ’66. You know people – it’s always interesting trying to live in the Irish Republic, because everybody assumes that the Troubles started in 1968/’69 – but the Troubles started the year of the Fiftieth Anniversary, because the UVF killed their first three victims in 1966. Patrick Scullion, Peter Ward and a Protestant woman, when they fire-bombed a Catholic bar, they hit the Protestant house next door and killed a woman. The first three murders were ’66, just as the first bombings were UVF bombings in ’69, and the first Police officer killed in The North was Victor Arbuckle, who was shot by the UVF.
So, growing up as a young Catholic and a young Nationalist, in Derry there was always a feeling that at some point we were going to need the IRA because we had no Irish Government speaking for us. We had an RUC – like a para-military police force, The B-Specials, you know, heavy, heavy oppressive, armed force coercing us to be in a State where we didn’t really want to be in. I mean, I certainly remember asking my father for years, ‘How come we have relations 14 miles away and 5 miles away across the border, who are Irish. How come we ended up this side of the border?’

D’Arcy: “In Donegal. What was his explanation?”

O’Doherty: “He had no explanation, I mean I used to say, ‘How come we’re on the wrong side of the border? How come we’re not Irish citizens? Here we are in Derry, at one point 4 miles from the Buncrana border.’ And you know, he could never answer. I was ten, eleven, or twelve at this time and I wanted to know what the hell had happened, how did we all get stuck up here – second class citizens. And for all the fact that there may have been emigration and tough times down South, at least you didn’t feel this oppressive second class citizenship, second class Catholic citizenship. I don’t think we understood it, but I definitely didn’t understand it.”

D’Arcy: “Neither did I, you know a young lad growing up, same as myself – I definitely didn’t understand it.”

O’Doherty; “You know I was a Pacifist and anti-violence growing up – and it was very black and white for me, so as a result I was anti-IRA. But I was only a young lad. But you see when I was a young kid there were stories revolving around the family about my father’s two eldest brothers, George and Willy who had supposedly been in the old IRA and we knew that we had an uncle in Dublin called Lt. Col George O’Doherty who was in the Free State Army – that’s what we were told. And you know, my aunts were supposed to be some way involved with Collins/Lemass, but you know, you were reared on these stories. when there were stories mentioned up in Derry about that, my father wasn’t great for mentioning the IRA, or anything, but you’d hear about the escapes from Derry Jail, you’d hear about you know, fantastically heroic acts by IRA men – and you know, you were kids. You grew up thinking the IRA was an amazing organisation altogether.

D’Arcy: “So, when did you… you say in that documentary that you didn’t know how to join. Two mates from school came up and said, ‘Do you want to join the IRA?”

O’Doherty: “Well, I first of all joined, I first of all joined for a short time, what they called ‘The Stickies’ and it was like a… it was a Young Official IRA.”

D’Arcy: “Not Provisional IRA?”

O’Doherty: “No, no – they were hard to find at the time. A lot of us who later joined the Provos, we all joined a sort of Fianna group near Thundering Down in Derry, and I had famously gone up to a house in Creggan asking how could I join the IRA?’ An English man answered the door of this Republican house. And I remember thinking, well I’ve met Reggie Tester, but holy god, there’s a Brit here, and he’s supposed to be speaking for the Official Republican Movement. But anyway, having gotten past him and a few others, we made our way into the… the ‘Official’ bit of it was a joke. And later, my best friend at the time, I was walking home from school one day when I was fifteen, and he just stopped me and said, ‘I’m going to join the Provos tomorrow evening in Waterloo Street, do you want to be sworn in with me?’ I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ And it was just… in a moment you were in. The next evening we were sworn in.”

D’Arcy: “What did that involve… swearing in?”

O’Doherty: “Well, we went up to a house where there were two of the first Provisional IRA guys in Derry and they were delighted to get teenagers in. They made you swear a n oath of allegiance to Oglaigh na hEireann. And they basically said, you’ve got two futures in front of you, well three possibly, if you survive. And freedom was one, the other was, you’re going to do a long time in prison, 20 to 25 years. The third is, you’re going to be killed. So, steel yourself, because that’s your options. We left that night thinking this is great altogether, we’re heroes and martyrs and patriots already. We were Patrick Pearse and James Connolly…”

D’Arcy: “And Kevin Barry?”

O’Doherty: “…all in one, you know – well, I didn’t like Kevin Barry. But, all in one, yeah! It was just amazing really, you were just like a secret agent and you were like a hero. And we were floating on air for days after.”

D’Arcy: “When you look back at that, you were misguided weren’t you?”

O’Doherty: “Well, we were children, we were kids. But you see, I would look back at you know how many armies and forces in the world use young people like, of fifteen and used like Kevin Barry and used myself and others. There is a certain crime in using children for these types of actions.”

D’Arcy: “But you came from a middle-class background, you weren’t sort of disenfranchised, which, you know a lot of young men….”

O’Doherty: “Well, I don’t know – Catholics were a famously disenfranchised group, rich or poor, it didn’t matter. It was more a case of, I don’t know whether… I often wonder when I’m driving to work and driving back in the wee small hours, but you know, when I’m abroad speaking in Spain, or somewhere, where I give many talks in universities – they want to know, why is Ireland partitioned and what’s this big lump called Northern Ireland at the top of the island. There was an electoral map on RTE famously, recently and it showed Ireland without the six counties. And you know, to me the idea that our greatest neighbour which fought for its freedom in the Second World War and which declared, you know, that they would fight to the last to keep the Germans out, that their sovereignty could never be questioned or impugned. The lesson I’ve learned from looking at our neighbours in Britain is that they fiercely guard their freedom and they fiercely guard their territorial integrity to the tune of sending thousands of sailors out to a sheep-shit covered rock in the South Atlantic. and yet, we are somehow impugned for opposing partition.”

(Talk over each other)

D’Arcy: “I want to get YOUR story. You were sworn in to the Provisional IRA. What happened next then – were you given a weapon?”

O’Doherty: “No, we weren’t given a weapon. They would have been stored separately.”
(Talk over each other)

D’Arcy: “People would want to know!”

O’Doherty: “No, no I wasn’t given a weapon – because there were no weapons, you see. You had a lot of meeting with sticks and stuff, walking up and down – learning to march. Learning to take orders – it was all silly stuff, because they knew we were all waiting for the action, you know. They would make incendiary devices, they would teach people how to make incendiary devices with condoms and wax. We didn’t even know what condoms were for. We were making incendiary devices from them – we thought they were invented for incendiary devices, we didn’t realise that condoms were for something else. We made incendiary devices with acid and other chemicals, we burned down shops in the City Centre and they gave us a few small hand guns and we went out against army patrols that were highly trained with guys that had SLR rifles and we’d pop these hand guns off at them from ten yards or eight yards and hope to hit and we tried to run away and hope to not get killed. I mean, it was suicidal.”
D’Arcy: “And did you get disenchanted with them then, around 1970/’71?”

O’Doherty: “No – in 1971, when internment occurred in the North, there was an incredible reaction and probably my best friend in the IRA at the time Eamonn Laverty, he seemed ten years older than I was, I was shocked later to realise he was three years older. Three years – I thought he was 10 years older.”

D’Arcy: “At 19?”

O’Doherty: “Yeah, 19. Eamonn and I were knocking about Creggan for a long time, and he really liked me, that I was this young kid hanging off him and would do anything for him, I’d ferry bombs for him, or do anything he asked. He got a new 303 rifle in from the Free State here, with a telescopic sight, gungho to use it. The Brits were supposed to be coming into the Creggan one night, because it was a no-go area, and he went out and before he got a shot fired, he was dead. He was hit by two bullets, and I was talking to Eamonn ten or twelve minutes beforehand, and I said, ‘Can I come with you?’ and he said, ‘No, wait here on the sofa ’til I get back in the house and we’ll go to the Creggan shops.’ People got back to me a few minutes later and said that Eamonn was dead, that he had been shot dead. I was in shock. A few days later a good friend of mine, a great friend of mine who had been at the door of my house 24 hours before, talking about internment, was shot dead in an accident by a young IRA man, I think on the Waterside, shot him in the chest. He died. I mean in two days…”

D’Arcy: “Was it mistaken identity?”

O’Doherty: “No, no it was an accident, it occurred in an abandoned house. But these two guys… I was pretty much hit by that and I also didn’t like the way the IRA treated the funeral bringing people from outside to do the Laverys’ funeral. So I just stayed away. I stayed away, I just didn’t go back to any of the meetings. And you know people would drive past me in cars on the Bogside and say, ‘Are ye not coming back?’ and I’d say, ‘No, I’m not going back!’ It was friendly enough, you know. As long as you kept your mouth shut. You knew these people, you were growing up with these people and you were still friends with them, you were just not going back to these meetings. It’s a bit like AA. I suppose.”

D’Arcy: “And then Bloody Sunday came along.”

O’Doherty: “Well, in all honesty, it was just one more civil rights march, you know, that was banned. Everybody thought,’Feck being banned for walking in your own city.’ I was walking with another great friend of mine Eamonn McAteer on the day, and we were just oblivious to… you know, you were walking down through Rossla Street, you could see some truck up on Free Derry Corner with some British MPs and Peelers on them and stuff and Lord Brockwell was there I think – and I’m not too sure who they were, but we were looking at girls from Thorne Hill College – the next minute there’s this massive shooting just beside us and we just look and we can see paratroopers running at us with rifles.

I was a cross-country runner at St. Columb’s College and I took off like a scalded cat and Eamonn didn’t and he was captured. He was famously photographed being run across open ground by armed paras and being put up against a wall. There was incredible shooting and incredible to see bodies lying on the ground as I ran, and I ran into Glenn Fada Park and hid behind a wall. And I went up to his house, you know they had a big, sort of wealthy house in Beechwood Avenue. He had a brother who was a priest and I went up to his house and said to him, ‘Eamonn’s dead, I can’t find him – he’s definitely dead!’ And although the city was in lock-down, I got over to Altnagelvin hospital to right outside the morgue, there were almost no civilians there. Eamonn’s brother who was a priest, he went in to check for his body. I stood outside unnoticed and there were top army officers and police officers there laughing and joking about the shot people. It was incredidbly enraging to see, and I just thought, you know, there’s only one way to hit these people, and it’s with weapons, you know?

D’Arcy: “Right! So then you were back into the Provisional IRA?”

O’Doherty: “No, I wasn’t back in, when I saw, you know, Bloody Sunday was a huge attrocity and had a huge impact on people and I went to the funerals and like, Derry people couldn’t hardly get in, with the amount of Free State people packing the church that had never crossed the border before then, or since. I was outside in the rain and I thought, this is a joke. And later, I tried to get back to the Provos and it was jammed up with adults and I mean, it had been my seventeenth birthday on the 25th January and Bloody Sunday happened on the 30th – and I couldn’t get in. There were too many adults.”

D’Arcy: “You couldn’t get into the Provos?”

O’Doherty: “I couldn’t get in, there were too many volunteers, and you know, I had some skills with explosives and guns, more than many people and they basically said Feck off, we’re far too busy with the adult volunteers. Feck you! So we were bumming around, and I couldn’t get any action – they wouldn’t let me do anything, so I went over to London for the Summer, the Summer of ’72, I had a brother there and I sort of famously enjoyed myself for the Summer, you know, working, earning some money, pretended I was eighteen and took various jobs. And I made money and I listened to George Melly playing jazz, went jogging and basically had a ball over the Summer and discovered that ‘Operation Motorman’ had happened in the North when the Brits went in big-time into the ghettos and cleared them out, basically.

When I got back to Derry and went back to St. Columb’s College, I was coming home from a girl’s house one night, that I’d left home and I lived in the sort of Nobby Street area and there was an army post at the bottom, sort of guarding it and as I walked past these Brits at night, they beat me up.
And I was… I’ve always been inclined to write, which is not always the brightest thing to do, but I wrote a letter to The Derry Journal and said, you know, I was beaten up by these brits, as soon as they heard that I wasn’t from Bogside, Creggan or Brandywell, that I was from this Nobby Street, they let me go. And I was injured, there’s a picture in my book of the famous letter in The Derry Journal, Shane O’Doherty, seventeen years of age, 39 Claramount Street. The Brits… when that appeared in the Friday edition of The Derry Journal, in the afternoon when I was walking back to St. Columb’s College there were two jeeps outside and these jeeps followed me up, quite a long walk up through the Diamond to St. Columb’s College, quite a long walk, it would take you 40 minutes, nearly. And some army officer jumped out at the Diamond and put his stick up to my throat and said, ‘I’m gonna have you!’, you know. I lived in a very Protestant street, and one of my neighbours, who was a UDR man came to me and he said, ‘You know, you’re for it after that letter. A lot of stuff’s been happening in this area, and I’m just warning you, your number’s up!’ This was a time, you know, when the Brits were shooting people dead. So, I took advice from people, who were mostly based in Buncrana, to get the hell out.
So, I had to go down to Dublin, and I was bumming around Dublin at that time, basically homeless, you know staying in flats and places where people knew each other seventeen. Martin McGuinness had been arrested at the Border and I said to hell with that and he was in Bridewell, I went in and said I was Martin’s younger brother and they let me in, they didn’t know any better. And I basically said to Martin, ‘Martin I want to go back up to the North and rock and roll.’ And Martin said, ‘Away you go!’ ”

D’Arcy: “What does ‘rock and roll’ mean?”

O’Doherty: “It means get back into action in Derry, there were hardly any volunteers there, it was after ‘Operation Motorman’, you know, it was under lock-down. So, I went back up to Derry and stayed in safe-houses and the few volunteers who were left were bringing Armalite rifles around and then we got explosives.”

D’Arcy: “so, what were you doing?”

O’Doherty: “I spent my days arranging ambushes, you know, on Brits, you know, initially with armalites and stuff, but I wasn’t a great shooter. I tried shooting at Brits a few times and missed easy. But then they said, ‘You were an explosives guy, why don’t you move back into explosives?’ And so, nobody really wanted to work with explosives, there had been a number of volunteers who had been blown up and killed in Derry, and I thought if I stick with explosives, they’ll always need me and I’ll go higher. I just made bombs and…”

D’Arcy: “How did you know how to make bombs?”

O’Doherty: “Well, you see there was always a bit of oral knowledge handed down through the IRA units from the ’50s and stuff. But mainly, it was American Special Forces manuals on booby-traps, those were floating about in the IRA. But i went to the library and looked up, you know, in the reference library in Brooke Park, I looked up detonators and explosives and dynamite and gelignite and worked out how to do it. It’s a very simple scenario that you’re dealing with – it’s either fuse wire and detonators or electrics, although in those days we used both. But it’s trial and error. You know, we struggled in ’73, I was eighteen in ’73 and we’d been shooting and bombing then for a few months and then I developed… I’d been reading in the Sunday paper about the PLO and letter-bombs and I starting making them.”

D’Arcy: “Just before we move on to the letter-bombs, how many bombs would you have planted then?”

O’Doherty: “Dozens, just too many, you know, you were planting duffle-bombs, all sorts of bombs, shops, outside shops, you know, banks, police stations, whatever.”

D’Arcy: “Were people killed?”

O’Doherty: “Not at all, no, we were always giving warnings. These were our own local people, they would see us coming, or we’d shout warnings, you know, we were looking after our own people. It was against infrastructure, shops, the city centre, we’d always give warnings. There was the famous joke at the time, you know, when anyone saw certain people walking into a bar, or office, they’d say, ‘You’ve got three minutes to get out!’ That was the joke, they wouldn’t even need to be told. They’d see someone coming with a duffle-bag or a box and they would all jump out of the place. it was against the economic structure at the time.

D’Arcy: “Was anybody injured?”

O’Doherty: “I’m sure there were, but I never paid any attention.”

D’Arcy: “But would you not have, I’m just intrigued… would you not have paid attention to the papers the next day to see, to read about your handiwork?”

O’Doherty: “Well, I mean I could see it, I didn’t need to read the paper, I could drive or walk down past it and look at it, you know. You see, we were very careful. But you knw, you have to understand that the IRA needed huge infrastructure in the town, it needed safe-houses, it needed dumps for weapons and explosives, all from local people. We needed safe-houses for volunteers from local people, we needed cars and information. For every shooter, or bomber in the front-line, there’d be a hundred people behind supporting in the community. So, you tend to see the IRA as apart from the community, I see the IRA as integrated entirely into the community and functioning because of the community. It’s not external to it, it’s internal to it.”

D’Arcy: “So, you went to London then…”

O’Doherty: “Well, I developed letter-bombs in Derry, early on, they were crude, I got blown up by one of them. I was down here getting some medical treatment at The Mater Hospital and I had tto explain to The Mater Hospital that I was building something in Derry, and it went off in my hand and blinded my eye, you can see the damage there. Some GHQ guy came along, he heard I was staying in a house…”

D’Arcy: “GHQ, IRA GHQ?”

O’Doherty: “Yeah, GHQ, General Headquarters – the top guys, yeah, who were running the whole show -some guy.”

D’Arcy: “Who was that then?”

O’Doherty: “You know, I’m not a great man for names. I wrote a book, people have said that ‘Volunteers’ is the only book ever written without mentioning any names. He was a director of operations and would be fairly well known, you know. And he said to me, ‘Would you head off to London because the ‘Belfast Ten’ were arrested there, captured, you know, coming away from The Old Bailey bombs and New Scotland Yard – and would you go over with letter-bombs and you know, just kick ass over there?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure!’ It was as simple as that. I bought some sort of a back-pack thing with a tubular frame and stuck electric detonators inside the tubular frame, put a load of packets of 4oz explosives inside the back-pack and put a load of clothes on top. Got a flight from Dublin to Heathrow, landed in London, rented a flat from an agency, said I was a student, had a flat near Earl’s Court, set up. Went out and bought batteries and wires and some stuff and just started sending letter-bombs to 10 Downing Street, The Stock-Exchange, The Bank of England, Reginald Maudling, the Home Secretary. The guy, who, in my view had been responsible for Bloody Sunday – not the soldiers on the ground, but the Home Secretary. Suddenly, these letter-bombs were from nowhere were like, world-wide news and parts of London were…”

D’Arcy: “How many, can you remember how many?”

O’Doherty: “I can’t remember, dozens and dozens went out. some went off, some didn’t, but the big ones you wanted were at 10 Downing Street where when it was discovered the next day, it was huge, huge. Reginald Maudling, The Home Secretary, the guy who was responsible for Bloody Sunday, he got blown up at his country house when he opened one that was disguised as a letter from The Carlton Club. You know, there were bombs at the Stock Exchange and Judges and Generals and stuff. . Basically, you have to understand, Ray, that Derry was being blitzed by Brits, houses raided, people shot, people coerced, people beaten. We thought, take the war to London and give them a taste of their own shit.

D’Arcy: “You know what fascinated me, watching the documentary with your four brothers, Bernard, Feargal, Eamonn, and Murdoch, so they were brought up the same…”

O’Doherty: “There’s one brother you left out there…”

D’Arcy: “Is there -did he not give his….”

O’Doherty: “Oh, I’d a brother who was never in the… well, who was in the Royal Air Force. And I mean, you know, all Derry families had people who were in the British Army.”

D’Arcy: “This is it – so they all grew up in the same environment, with the same…”

O’Doherty: “Not strictly speaking. Because they were older and they’d already left Derry, and had gone to university in Dublin.”

D’Arcy: “And you were the youngest?”

O’Doherty: “I was the seventh of eight, myself and my kid brother Fergal were in Derry, they weren’t in Derry.”

D’Arcy: “I was wondering why they didn’t turn to the IRA, and you did? And Feargal didn’t.”

O’Doherty: “Well, age helped, of course. The fact that I was thirteen in ’68, the fact that I was fourteen in ’69 and the fact that I was fifteen…”

D’Arcy: “Time and timing?”

O’Doherty: “We’d got Feargal out to the States, when I got arrested, he was getting terrible harrassment and we spirited him to the States where he still lives.”

D’Arcy: “You mentioned The Royal Exchange there and there was a woman, what was her name…”

O’Doherty: “Joanna Maxwell.”

D’Arcy: “Yeah, she opened the letter, and what happened to her?”

O’Doherty: “Well, you could see her on the documentary, I wasn’t there, but I know by now. I do know that like me, she was blown up. I was blown up by a letter-bomb and injured, she was blown up by a letter-bomb and injured…”

D’Arcy: “Yeah, but you were making the letter-bombs, so. She was an innocent!”

O’Doherty: “Sure, she was, but the point is that you know, eighteen year olds don’t think. When I’m dealing with eighteen year olds now, I’m not expecting them to think then. Here was an eighteen year-old kid alone in London…”

D’Arcy: “This is you, now in London….”

O’Doherty: “Yeah, that was me, yeah, but you know it was an eighteen year-old kid not someone with a mature understanding, I had assumed that people would open letters, that not everybody had a secretary, and then I discovered that they did have secretaries. And you know I felt quite obviously, bad about that and you know, I did say to the IRA when I was back in Ireland after that Summer bombing. There’s a worse story than that one about a time-bomb I planted in Oxford Street. My first one. I’d planted it in a basement shop. I can’t remember the name of it, it may have been Debenhams, or something like that. I planted it there and I came out and went to a phone box and I rang the police and said that there was a bomb in a shop in Oxford Street – and gave them a one hour warning. and I told them where it was. And the cop said ‘F Off’ and put the phone down.
Now, I was in a huge panic, and I thought, ‘Oh god. what happens here?’ I just couldn’t understand it and I went to another phone box, and now I’m panicking, because the time is running out on this time-bomb, and I rang the police again, and I said there’s a bomb and then Feck Off and they put the phone down. They didn’t take it seriously and it struck me standing in Oxford Street with a bomb in a shop nearby that they were getting, what – 10,000 calls a day that were hoaxes, 20,000 in a city of 20 million people and the least honourable thing that I ever did was not go back to the shop and clear the people out. I just froze and did nothing about it. On the documentary the other night, it showed a yellow bag, the detonator in that bag went off and the bomb didn’t and it was extremely rare of my IRA career that a bomb did not explode. In that case, I was looking into the jaws of an atrocity and you know…”

D’Arcy: “But when you make a bomb and you put them in public places, there’s a logical conclusion, that even if you do give warnings that things could go wrong.”

O’Doherty: “There is, sure, I agree with you. If you go back in time to the eighteen year-old – I discovered that the cops wouldn’t answer the phone, they didn’t take this thing seriously. So, I immediately that night, without having any contact with the IRA phoned the Press Association and said, ‘Look, I’m going to make a special effort to prove to you that I’m an IRA bomber. I’m going to give you a code word that’s a double x and when I ring with a bomb warning, you can take it for granted, it’s real. Now, I’m telling you, there’s going to be three or four bombs this evening in Chelsea. I’d already planted three, or four small bombs in Chelsea, under cars, near houses of British Intelligence people that we had addresses of, and stuff. I said that there was going to be three or four bombs this evening. I’m going to ring you back tomorrow and prove to you that I am the guy, that I am the bomber. So, next day, I rang back, the bombs had gone off and they were fully x’d up. So now, in the space of 24 hours we’d gotten over how to get a warning through. Not that I’m saying, look great, the adult person you’re speaking to isn’t going to argue for bombs or bombings with warnings are great and tell you they’re fine.”

D’Arcy: “Were you operating on your own, out of a flat and doing all this?”

O’Doherty: “All the letter-bombs and time-bombs, by myself.”

D’Arcy: “There was mayhem in London and there was terror everywhere…”

O’Doherty: “It was easy to plant bombs, send letter-bombs, and really within a week, or two bring the city centre to a halt.”

D’Arcy: “So, we’ll jump on a bit now, because they traced you and your finger-prints and traces of your handwriting, and there were other things that happened, you went back to the North. But, you were arrested brought back for trial and you were found guilty of that campaign. And you were sentenced too thirty life-sentences and twenty years – and in that court case, you saw some of your victims.”

O’Doherty: “Well, I wasn’t to recognise the courts, typical of the IRA hard-core, I said that I didn’t recognise the court. I think that they realized that although they reckoned on a six month trial, there was 31 different charges. I had indicated to them that I wasn’t recognizing the court, so it began on a Monday and it finished on Friday afternoon, but they wheeled in a few sort of representative victims, and I sat and listened to their stories. I made my own decision to make the first ever apology from the dock and I apologized openly to a phrase that I recall very well, ‘innocent working-class victims who were accidentally injured by these bombs’. And it was the first sort of apology that I remember. There was a growing awareness in young people, you’ve got to see it in some sort of historical thing, here was someone who was already saying…you see I think you’ve missed out on one very important part there, Ray. I was arrested during the ceasefire, 6 months into a ceasefire, a ceasefire that I had voted for very famously, the ceasefire of ’74/’75, which could have ended it all. And I, and others at that age, I was nineteen and in ’75, I was now twenty. I had been bombing for five years. The full horror of war, warfare, sectarian assassination, killings by the Brits, killings by Loyalists. The three armed struggles in Ireland, the British armed struggle, the Loyalist armed struggle and the IRA armed struggle. i was sick, sore and tired of it. All three armed struggles and I had given…. and another interesting thing happened to me, I say, interesting, horrible, terrible, but I’m going tell it, because it’s part of my story. I was arrested during the ceasefire, and so, the IRA in Derry was very upset with the police, who had breached the ceasefire and they probably fully expected the RUC to breach the ceasefire, because the ceasefire was between the Brits and the IRA. The Unionists and the RUC were excluded from the details of that ceasefire. So, I was arrested on a Thursday, and I appeared in court on the Saturday in Coleraine. And the IRA would have realized that RI had been committed to prison, so it was a breach of the ceasefire. So, they go out that evening and they shoot a police constable dead in Derry. Paul Greaves nineteen years of age, they shoot him dead and there’s a brief statement saying we’re back to square one.”

D’Arcy: “So this shooting was in retaliation for your arrest?

O’Doherty: “So yeah, and an end to the ceasefire. So, when I was in Crumlin Road Jail that night, I’d never been in jail in my life, never been in prison before, didn’t know Belfast at all, didn’t know how sectarian the war had been there, with terrible sectarian murders, with terrible tension in prison. I went to my cell at midnight, knowing nothing about what was happening in the outside world. After midnight about eight or nine screws came to my cell and tried to kick the living shit out of me in the prison cell, but they couldn’t get at me because it was so crowded, and they said that a young constable has been shot dead because you were arrested and his father is the principal officer of this wing of this prison that you are on. And they tore up the sheets, and they said hang yourself you bastard, or we will… I was in that cell a few days later when ‘The Dead March’ was played in the cell window, as his body was removed. And here I am, and I’m thinking, okay, hang on a wee second, this is my mind at that age, I was saying, okay five years bombing, you voted for a ceasefire the church men had somehow rubber stamped in December ’74 , you voted in a ceasefire even though there were extreme views against it, I was one of the ones who voted for it because I thought this war needs to be over. Six months into a ceasefire, I’m arrested for the London bombings, I was never convicted of anything in Ireland, North or South…”

D’Arcy: “But, did you commit crimes?”

O’Doherty: “Well…, but Ray, that’s what I’m trying to point out, obviously 99% of my bomb were in the North, or on the border, and when they brought me to London, they said, ‘look, we’re only interested in 10 Downing Street and Reginald Maudling, you’re never going to be convicted in Ireland, North, or South. So, I was never tried in the North. London was all that mattered to these people. But getting back to the story, I was in prison thinking, ‘Wow, what do I see happening around me, and you know I was made IO of Crumlin for the few months I was there. I was the Intelligence Officer, and I would de-brief people coming in. In Derry when we heard there were shootings in Belfast, we thought these were UDA, UVF men being shot and we believed this.

D’Arcy: “But they were innocent Protestants who were being shot?”

O’Doherty: “I interviewed my first few IRA guys coming in from shootings in ’75 and I said, ‘ Two UDA and two UVF men shot last night?’ And they went, ‘No, two Orangies!’ I said, ‘What do you mean two Orangies?’ ‘We stiffed two Prods!’ I wrote a letter out to the Derry Brigade saying I can’t believe this, shooting Prods, I sent one out to the Belfast Brigade and they stood me down, I was stood down as IO overnight. And I was suddenly nobody in the prison. Shortly after, I was released and re-arrested, flown to London by the RAF and stuck up as ‘The Great London Bomber’ and I meet all these innocent people in prison, the Maguires, the Conlons, the Birmingham Six, at least I know why I am here. And I get my 30 life-sentences, my 20 years and I enter solitary, because I would wear the criminal uniform and I entered solitary thinking, hard-core, I’m Mister Hard-core, so, I go into solitary naked and I wear a small towel around my waist for fifteen months, but I’m 24 hour banged-up, segregation unit of Wormwood Scrubs for the next fifteen months and I think this was hard-core future me fighting for political status, fighting for repatriation.”

D’Arcy: “Because you in that dimension, you see yourself as an historical figure, really?”

O’Doherty: “Well, yes, you are! When you’re stuck up at The Old Bailey, you know you’re in the history books.”

D’Arcy: “Was that part of the attraction?”

O’Doherty: “It was of course, yes. You’re right, I’ve been into Kevin Barry’s mind as well.”

D’Arcy: “Is it an ego thing?”

O’Doherty: “Some of it’s an ego thing – some members of Kevin Barry’s family said that he, in the end desired to be martyred, now I don’t take a view exactly like that, but I can understand that when you… like I knew that when I was going into the Old Bailey for my sentence that the thirty lifes and twenties were widely in use and that I would be this hard-core guy who would give the two fingers to the British Establishment.”

D’Arcy: “How would you compare to other members of the Provisional IRA that you met – their motivation, their background, looking back on it?”

O’Doherty: “Ah, you never really thought about it, you were too busy trying to survive. You know, I lived from day to day.”

D’Arcy: “Did you meet what we would modernly term as psychopath criminals, you know the homogeneous group?”

O’Doherty: “They were all people from Derry, people I went to school with in Derry, in the choir with them, they went to the Feis with me, they went out courting girls with me. There wasn’t this… I can’t give you a comic-strip answer to that. No, they were normal people like you and me, you know – the same people who took up weapons in 1916 and 1918 down here in Dublin and killed British agents, killed civilians, killed RIC men, killed informers, it’s the same Irish people that did it, the same Irish people who transported weapons up North from bunkers down here. The same people who handed over 1918 weapons to us in the 1960s.”

D’Arcy: “You found God – right. No, now this is important, you found God and you’re obviously, you repented.”

O’Doherty: “Well, it was a long road, I mean it was a Jesuit thing. There’s a famous Jesuit priest, you’ll see him there in the movie, ‘The Mission’, he was actually in the movie, ‘The Mission’, he’s the guy who walks Jeremy Irons down to the cell where DeNiro refuses to come out after killing his brother, that’s a Jesuit priest. The prisoners I met in Brixton Prison, there was a hateful bastard, who hates the Irish, he sent his passport back to the Passport Office saying he wanted British taken off it and English put on it, because he couldn’t stand to be put with Celts and stuff. and he came into my cell one day, and I thought, you know… We had a fierce argument, we’d a fierce row and he and I differed, we had a big row one day in my cell and I said to him, he was giving out to me about morality, ethics, God and so on, and I shouted at him, ‘Where’s the proof of your effing God, that your effing God exists?’ And he said, ‘In the four Gospels of course’ , as he took snuff up his nose. He was an ex-army officer from the Second World War and he hated me. And as he said this line to me, ‘Why, in the four Gospels of course!’ And I thought I’m going to read that, if it’s the last thing I do. I got the Bible in and I searched through one thousand five hundred pages to try to find, to grasp… I didn’t really know what the Bible was, for all the Catholicism that’s in me. I read the four Gospels in one evening, and I was kind of blown away by the four-sided story of this JC character and I was quite frightened, I was quite frightened by it, it was the holy fear of God blew me out of my position – somewhat, not wholly, but somewhat, you know for me, fear was a great thing with it. It shocked me that I could escape, I didn’t care about the British court and I didn’t care about imprisonment and I didn’t care about being in solitary. I had friends who had died in the Struggle, so the fact that I was being kept alive and fed, I didn’t care about prison, or courts, or judgments. Why care about British judgments, when so many Irishmen who went before me didn’t care about them, why should I care about them. it was water off a duck’s back to me. To me the Struggle continued in prison as far as I was concerned, I was naked in solitary, I was fighting for so long to still have beliefs of some kind, suddenly I’m shocked to find I might be on the wrong side.”

D’Arcy: “When do you say to yourself, I have made a terrible mistake, I have maybe, I don’t know – I may have killed someone, I definitely have maimed people and it’s something I shouldn’t have done. When did that hit you?”

O’Doherty: “I think, up to December ’74 when we voted for the ceasefire, ceasefire, or not, it was clear to me I had lost too many friends and having seen so many people killed and so many innocent civilians in Derry, killed and injured. It was clear to me, and it was clear to us that it was going nowhere. And there were huge differences – there are still people in Derry who don’t talk to me, from the date that we voted for and against the ceasefire, which was all that time. So you see, when I went to prison I felt this Paul Greave thing on my shoulders… this cosmic box.”

D’Arcy: “He was shot dead in retaliation for you going to prison.”

O’Doherty: “Well, I mean I felt…

D’Arcy: “But you could have killed so many other people, directly by bomb-making, I don’t get the….”

O’Doherty: “Well, you see once you’re involved in one of these killings…”

D’Arcy: “What’s different about him being shot and you planting a bomb and somebody dying?”

O’Doherty: “Because you see, Ray, the weird thing is, as you’re going through your IRA career, half of your job would be to be getting warnings in. Half of your job would be making sure there are no civilians around. Half your job would be trying to kill Brits, apart from civilians and the Brits were trying to kill us, so you know, the attitude was, we managed many attacks on Brits and cops and the RUC.”

D’Arcy: “This is starting to turn into a two hour chat and we’re running out of time. Where do you stand now on Sinn Fein?!

O’Doherty: “Well, let me go back in time, you see I took the view that it would be prosecute the desire for a United Ireland without war.”

D’Arcy: “So, it was a waste of over 300,000 lives, sorry 3,000…”

O’Doherty: “One life was a waste, in my view. The armed struggle, we didn’t need it. it was a tactic that was the worst possible one to super – glue onto a desire for a United Ireland. And I decided, you know, I owe it to my victims to write them letters of apology, as part of my repentance. I owe it to write more about an end to all violence. I’ve published a letter saying, ‘Call off the war!’ I did whatever I could to help The Birmingham Six and The Guildford Four to get out of prison. I wrote a book while I was in prison against the armed struggle and did whatever I could. But, you know, you have to look back at your life and be honest and say, right this was my life. The best way I can describe as my way of atoning …”

D’Arcy: “But so many other people led a similar life and they didn’t turn to violence. Not everybody of your age in Northern Ireland at the time turned to violence.”

O’Doherty: “Well, not everybody in Dublin turns to drugs and alcohol, or music, or whatever. I mean you make your life choices. I grew up in a specific sub-culture with friends. We were in the right place at the right time to be marshalled into the IRA as fifteen year olds. I don’t agree with that now. I don’t agree fifteen year olds should be marshalled in there.”

D’Arcy: “Okay, you went into Maynooth, after two years, you turned your back on that. You believe in God, so, to that classic question, when your time comes and you arrive…”

O’Doherty: “I don’t know if the gates are going to be pearly for me.”

D’Arcy: “You don’t believe in God, you could still make it to the Pearly Gates?”

O’Doherty: “No, I mean in my life, I can’t avoid God. Padre Pio erupted into my life in my prison sentence in a big way. You see, Eddie Daly sent me a book by a former SAS soldier who’d come across Padre Pio and I’d read this and the story changed my life to this day. I live in a zone called repentance which has a lot of liberating capacity for me. I mean it’s got a lot of liberating energy for me. But you know, I am aware Ray, don’t underestimate that I am along with many other former IRA volunteers quite happy to admit that we were members, unlike some people.”

D’Arcy: “Who do you mean by that?”

O’Doherty: “I’m waiting for the day Gerry finally admits that he was an IRA volunteer and Commander, and you know what the hell, I might also wait to win the Lottery. What was I going to say, don’t under-estimate…”

D’Arcy: “Would you give evidence to that effect?”

O’Doherty: “I’m afraid I wouldn’t give evidence against anyone! You see, don’t underestimate the degree to which many former IRA volunteers go through these years of recognizing victims, doing their work for peace. Look at Mr. Magee who’s over and back to London to the family of the Brighton Bomb victims. Don’t imagine that we don’t, that many people don’t have the same conscience as you have Ray, that people have moved on. You have to admit that the community that you’re looking at that supported one of the armed struggles, that’s the IRA armed struggle. They fought their way to see a peaceful outcome, they created a peace on the island when nobody thought it could happen.”

D’Arcy: “But you just said that it was a waste of 3,000 lives.”

O’Doherty: “Yes, but we had to achieve a point where the armed struggle was put away and there were huge risks for people. Now I don’t support Sinn Fein, and I don’t vote Sinn Fein, but I’ve great admiration for the people who risk their lives to bring about peace on the island. But, I wouldn’t vote for them. I wouldn’t vote for them for other reasons, and the only reason I’m telling you this is that it’s complicated Ray.”

D’Arcy: “Oh no, I’m just trying to understand. Is it time Shane, is it time, you know the way that we commemorated the 1916 Rising, which was a violent, you know, revolution, people died, most of them innocent civilians and with time what happened in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s in the North of Ireland, could that be seen differently?” The fact that you’re sitting in front of me…”

O’Doherty: “To me it’s amazing, it’s a beautiful thing that the Commemoration Wall in Glasnevin has all the dead united, together. We should at some point be able to look back at the war dead and say they’re all one. The British and Germans can do it.”

D’Arcy: “Does it not send out the wrong signal. Bob Geldof said that it was the 1966, 50 year Commemoration that sparked the Troubles in the North and re-ignited the violent struggle.”

O’Doherty: “I mean there was a 1956/’62 IRA campaign which led to, which involved a lot of people going to prison, it involved another British Amnesty up in Belfast. I mean there was the ’56/’62 campaign that campaign was four years before 1966. How could anybody say it sparked the Troubles. And when the UVF started killing Catholics in 1966 and started bombing, like the UVF bombed RTE, I mean they set off the first bombs, the first seven or eight bombs in Northern Ireland in 1969, the IRA didn’t have any bombs.”

D’Arcy: “Two wrongs don’t make a right, Shane.”

O’Doherty: “But you see you can’t listen to a knuckle-head who said that the ’66 Commemoration kick-started the Troubles. How was there a ’56/’62 campaign. How do you explain that, which was four years before 1966. There’s always been a… sure there was 1939, war, you know if you read the Brendan Behan book, ‘Borstal Boy’, he was sent off to bomb England in 1939 for god’s sake. When has there not been a decade? But you see, we’ve probably reached a watershed now where we’ve thirty years of war behind us, and so many people like me who’ve been through the wars and say, war is horrible, can we not divorce the beautiful and noble aim of uniting Ireland and the peoples in Ireland, our territorial integrity, you know, can we not move that to one side and move armed struggle and the horror of war to the other side? Separate them, divorce them, we don’t need to impugne a noble ideal with warfare.”

D’Arcy: “Two final questions, your partner, or yous said that you would go to your grave seeking repentance.”

O’Doherty: “There is no doubt that I live in a conscience which is troubled by these acts, like any other former IRA member.”

D’Arcy: “Does doing what you do now, does that help you, working with the homeless?”

O’Doherty: “No, no, I get paid for work. In my private life, I use a lot of my private life to talk to young people, travel to other countries and talk to young people about the power to change. I will be in Spain to talk to the leader of the victim’s group there, a Romanian, Vila speaking to her and the audience in Madrid, she’s the leader of the victim’s organisation in Spain. I do what I can with my private life, at my own expense to make a repentance in some way with your life every day – I mean, I’m grabbing it with both hands. I’m not saying, I’m not excusing anything in the past. I did my 15 years. Let me tell you a short story to finish off. When Private Ian Thain shot ‘Kidso’ O’Reilly in the back in Belfast he was the first British soldier convicted of murder in Belfast, he was spirited to an open prison in England, did two years in prison, got back pay for time in prison, got a gun in his hand and was accepted back into the British Army. So, the tariff for killing an Irish person if you’re a British Army soldier was two years for murder.

D’Arcy: “But there were terrible atrocities…”

O’Doherty: “We’re not talking about atrocities, we’re talking about justice, such as Bloody Sunday.”

D’Arcy: “But you have said already that you were never convicted of crimes in Ireland.”

O’Doherty: “Yeah, but what saying is that I got convicted of crimes and got sent to prison, you know, how many soldiers were convicted over the Bloody Sunday murders?

D’Arcy: “…Another debate”

O’Doherty: “You can’t mention justice to a Northern Nationalist without the coloration that they feel about British justice.

D’Arcy: I know, I understand, and I will read your book. Shane Paul O’Doherty, thank you very much.”

The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio)

26 thoughts on “Nobody Knows The Troubles I’ve Seen

  1. Polaroid Fluid

    spoke to him once, “repentant” really is not an accurate word for how he felt about his past actions.

    1. Mark My Little Words He'll Be Back in RTE in 12 Months

      Spoke to him a lot more than “once”. Repentant is an accurate word.

  2. 15 cents

    these days in the south, theres a lot of condemnation of the IRA and their actions during the troubles etc. . . but thats war. and it was war. if none of that happened you’d all be using stirling and using red postboxes now.

    1. 15 cents

      i was trollin .. was hopin to bait the likes of autonomonom (or whatever) and Don PigeonFace, they like a good outrage. instead i just got you guys being pretty funny. all swings n roundabouts i guess.

    2. Catherine McEntee

      Well said 15 cents. It never ceases to amaze me the sheer volume of ignorance displayed by many on here, in relation to this fact.

      1. Catherine McEntee

        Firdt time you said anything of value and it’s insincere.

        Whatever gets your rocks off.

        Rob _G, how many children were killed and maimed by plastic and rubber bullets etc? Give a balanced viewpoint or get off the stage.

  3. Rob_G

    You’re right – we should be thanking them for blowing up those two children in Warrington, and for burning those collie-fanciers alive.

    – didn’t we have green postboxes and punts before the Troubles, also?

  4. Ultach

    It didn’t end in 1922. The Loyalist thugs in uniform, officially and openly paid for by the Stormont planter government, systematically and conscientiously kicked the 5h1t and occasionally murdered with relish the native Irish in the six counties in an attempt to keep us in our place, as they had always done before, throughout the twenties, thirties, forties, fifties and sixties. Given the craven censorship in the 26 counties it is understandable that this isn’t widely known in the south, east and west. Although it didn’t just kick off in the late sixties, some of us did start kicking back at that time, true enough. Not an excuse or a justification for republican violence, but a context. I’m happy to say that many of us chose nonviolent resistance, despite official and unofficial murderous provocation.

    1. Spaghetti Hoop

      I’m disappointed that these RA thugs get the airtime and the peaceful resisters do not. Abstaining and burning the British Census was one action I applauded. 30 years on and not a word about that.

  5. Mourinho

    D’Arcy: “Does it not send out the wrong signal. Bob Geldof said that it was the 1966, 50 year Commemoration that sparked the Troubles in the North and re-ignited the violent struggle.”

    Ah yes, that well read historian with a phd in Irish History, Sir Bob.

  6. Owen

    I can’t stand Ray. Useless, annoying, over opinionated, arrogant man.

    Great guest though. Very interesting.

    1. Owen

      And I loved his comment on poor oul Gerry Adams. Could get himself shot with those ‘wild’ accusations.

  7. Supercrazyprices

    In the 1980s, people silently backed the IRA. Now their hipster kids are all moralizing revisionists who weren’t even born in the 80s and have no idea of the political mood at the time.

    1. Mark My Little Words He'll Be Back in RTE in 12 Months

      Ray D’Arcy as hipster kid? Shurely shome mishtake.

    2. bubbleandsqueak

      The bit about him getting stood down as Intelligence Officer when he was in prison because he objected to the Belfast brigade killing Protestants they knew were completely innocent says a world about the IRA mindset.

    3. Kieran NYC

      From what I can see, people who remember what it was actually like back then hate the scum.

      Its some younger people who know nothing but SF propaganda the last decade who think these same scum should be in government as they were only misunderstood poor-mouth victims or something.

  8. Truth in the News

    The simple minds in RTE, the issue they need to address, is who allowed a bigoted sectarian junta to hold power from 1920 to 1972 and let them get away with it. Was it not that the well heeled classes in the South that were too busy enjoying the fruits of power from 1922 to bother and now they want us to commemorate 1916…….the uprising in north arose because the minority refused to lie down, funny how there is no demand now from the unionists for a border poll, could it be that they have become the minority…..?

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