Northern Ireland news

Writer returns to Crumlin Road cell for book launch

Derry writer, Tony Doherty signs copies of his new book in the Crumlin Road prison cell where much of the action is set.
Seamus McKinney

DERRY writer Tony Doherty made a poignant return to the Crumlin Road prison cell which formed the backdrop of the final instalment of his three-part memoir for the official launch of the book.

“The Skelper and Me: A Memoir of Making History in Derry” was launched at the doors of Cell 5, C Wing where much of the book’s action rolled out in 1981.

The book covers Doherty’s time in prison after he was sentenced for IRA activity. It follows the earlier publications covering his life through the killing of his father, Patrick on Bloody Sunday. It also follows Doherty’s involvement in the campaign which eventually led to the establishment of the new Saville Inquiry.

Now chairman of the Bloody Sunday Trust, Doherty admitted last Friday’s launch felt surreal as it was only the second time he had been in the cell since his release.

“It felt weird to be back in the place out of which for me there was no escape. It is hard to believe when you first get into prison that you cannot leave without someone else’s permission; I know that might sound a bit daft,” he said.

The Derry writer said he was also bemused to discover that the reality of his life in 1981 had become a tourist attraction and a destination for foreign visitors as C Wing has been restored as part of the tour of Crumlin Road prison.

In “The Skelper,” Doherty recalls meeting his cellmate, Anto (not his real name) on his arrival in Cell 5 on March 1, 1981, the day Bobby Sands started his hunger strike in the Maze Prison.

“Anto showed me the ropes. It was like an apprenticeship; he explained what was going on and what was coming in the first day, the first week, the first month. I found out too that Anto had worked with my da up to 1972 at Du Pont (in Derry).”

Doherty told a number of former Crumlin Road Prison inmates and others that he had felt an obligation to his father to write the book.

“It was a labour of love. In essence the book is about the relationship between the son and the father. I felt privileged to be able to write about him and to take his case and lay it before the world,” he said.

The launch was chaired by Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy.

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