The Derry Woman Who Joined Cumann na mBan After 1916

The Derry Journal with the story of a Derry woman who joined Cumann na mBan after the 1916 Rising and who was honoured earlier this month after the Journal piece featured.

Later this month a Derry woman who joined the fight for Irish freedom post-1916 will be honoured when a plaque is erected outside the city centre home where she grew up.

Elizabeth (Lizzie) Doherty from Waterloo Street in Derry was a member of Cumann na mBann. The medals on either side were awarded to her on the 50th anniversary.

The ceremony on Wednesday, April 20 - just before the actual 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1916 - will take place outside what is today the Checkpoint Charlie shop on Waterloo Street, to commemorate the contribution of Elizabeth (Lizzie) Doherty.Both Elizabeth Doherty and her sister, Mary joined Cumann na mBan in Derry in the immediate aftermath of 1916 and in the period around partition.
Elizabeth Doherty's parents outside their shop on Waterloo Street in the early 1900s.

The sisters and their brothers. George and Willie, both of whom were in the IRA, plumber Eddie, and teachers Tommy, Mickey and Barney, grew up above the sewing machine shop owned by their father, Michael, at 35 Waterloo Street.

The house became a prominent meeting place for Republicans including figures such as Peadar O’Donnell, whose name graces one of pubs further down the street, and Tyrone-born Joe McKelvey, who was executed by the Free State in 1922.

Elizabeth’s daughter, Rosa Gallagher told the ‘Journal’ how her family was very proud and very grateful to Stephanie English for organising the plaque at her shop in memory of her mother.

Elizabeth Doherty passed away in December 1985 and when the Rising took place she was just 18 as Rosa explained:

My mother’s whole family were born in the house on Waterloo Street. She told me that growing up, there was no such thing as radios and how people all sat round talking, and somebody would sing a song and somebody might’ve read a bit of poetry. Some of the boys were teachers and her sister, Mary, was a teacher as well. My mother said she herself had to stay at home to look after her brothers.

The shop and house on William Street (where the car park is now) and where Elizabeth Doherty raised her family.

Speaking about her mother’s involvement, she said:

Back then they only knew the people in their own section. She talked about how they had to learn First Aid in case they were needed for the Flying Columns. Most of the women in her group were all teachers and even daughters of policemen. Some of the teachers refused to sign the government allegiance to the Queen and couldn’t get work.

Her mother was a staunch supporter of Michael Collins, but was less enamoured with Eamonn deValera.

“She hated him with a passion,” Rosa said.

They weren’t happy about the way we were left in the North. She talked about different people, and she would have told it as it was. She thought the world of Joe McKelvey, There was a number of them she thought very highly of.

Describing some of the activities her mother was involved in, she said:

She talked about Anton Rogers. He made the bombs and they would have gone and collected them and put them in brock buckets and covered them with brock and walked through the soldiers with these buckets. One time she had to smuggle this rifle away during a raid on Waterloo Street, and she went up William Street and up into Francis Street. She was nervous and this man called to her if she was alright, and she was so frightened she told him, ‘No I’m not I have a gun’, and he brought her in and told her to put it with the others in behind the fire place. This was a Protestant man.

On another occasion the sisters were able to look across and see their brother, who was hiding out from the Black and Tans in the home of a Justice of the Peace across the road from them on Waterloo Street.

Rosa said her own father, Vincent, was a very quiet man whose family ran a stationery and paper shop in the Foyle Street area, which stocked supplies from Germany. He too had been involved and there were guns brought in with the big rolls of paper.

“He was more frightened of his father finding out than getting caught,” Rosa said.

Elizabeth’s role in the fight for Independence was recognised in 1966, 50 years after the Rising, when she received medals of honour for her part in the struggle, but she refused to take the pension because she felt there was no luck in it.

“She was known as a verifier, so someone applying for the pension would have to be verified by my mother,” Rosa said.

Elizabeth was widowed young, and lived with her six children above the family’s newsagent shop in William Street, known locally as ‘The Bon Bon Stores’. The shop also sold wool and religious goods and it was situated four doors down from the home of Sammy Devenney, where the carpark is today (pictured below).

On one occasion when a then young Queen Elizabeth II of England was arriving in Derry, Rosa’s mother decided to stage her own kind of protest.

“I didn’t realise what she was doing. She threw all these old shoes on the flames and there was black smoke everywhere.”

When the police and fire brigade turned up, Mrs Doherty told them: ‘Would yous get out to hell’s gates and I’ll sort this out myself’.

On another occasion, Rosa recalled:

We all took turns in the shop and once when a bomb went off at the corner of Little James James Street and William Street there were police at the corner, and a fellow came in, well-dressed, and said: ‘I’m looking for somewhere to hide from the police’. I went into her and she told him: ‘Get out to hell’s gates down to your chums on the corner’.

Rosa recalled that in 1963 she and her mother went down south on a bus tour and her mother was disgusted that some Irish castles were still English owned.

Unfortunately we had booked a Northern bus and she came back disgusted because we were told ‘this castle belongs to Lord such-and-such’ etc and she couldn’t get over that the English still owned the land. She thought the land had all been given back.

Rosa said that the family was very proud of her mother and looking forward to the unveiling which will take place at 6.30pm on April 20, adding: “I can’t get over Stephanie doing this, it really is very nice of her.”

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