Donegal butcher forced to emigrate remembers darker side of Martin McGuinness

Joe Patterson says a young Martin McGuinness led a sectarian boycott which destroyed his business.
Joe Patterson says a young Martin McGuinness led a sectarian boycott which destroyed his business.

Former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness will be fondly remembered by his many supporters on the first anniversary of his death this Wednesday.

But one Donegal man now living in Vancouver, Joe Patterson, said he is still living with the bitter consequences of the former IRA commander’s role inthe intimidation and boycott of his butchery business in the 1970s, which saw him forced to emigrate with his young family in 1974.

A young Martin McGuinness

A young Martin McGuinness

The Pattersons had run a butcher’s business in Letterkenny since the 1840s and always lived peaceably with their neighbours. They owned a farm of 150 acres and a thriving, long-established meat business, providing jobs for around a dozen employees.

It was one of the most significant butchery businesses in the area. With the escalation of the Troubles in the early 1970s, cross-border trade caused his sales to increase 300%.

However, Joe was worried about anti-Protestant sentiment coming crossing the border.

Ominously, his first dealings with a young Martin McGuinness had a sinister and sectarian edge.

Letterkenny butcher Joe Patterson whose business was destroyed by a boycott which he said was led by Martin McGuinness in the 1970s

Letterkenny butcher Joe Patterson whose business was destroyed by a boycott which he said was led by Martin McGuinness in the 1970s

“I knew Martin McGuinness in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” he said. “He was a butcher who worked in the old Derry City abattoir at the top of William Street.

“I went to the abattoir on business every week and on arrival I was greeted by a shout to the 21-year-old: ‘Martin go get your gun, that Donegal Protestant is back again’.”

In 1972 Mr Patterson’s business suffered the theft of cash and four tonnes of frozen sirloin steak, which prompted a Garda investigation.

The suspects sought help from the Donegal IRA which was refused, but then approached Martin McGuinness. He paid a visit to Letterkenny to find out what was happening and “was only too happy to oblige by calling a boycott of our business”.

One of the many IRA threats given to Joe Patterson

One of the many IRA threats given to Joe Patterson

Joe added: “Complaints to An Garda regarding bomb threats to our customers were ignored.

“Many long-time customers apologised to me for being unable to continue doing business with us because of these threats.

“In talks with the Letterkenny Garda I was told that the only person that had the authority to order this all-out boycott was Martin McGuinness.”

If Joe’s car was seen in Letterkenny, his wife would get a phone call telling her where his body could be found.

Three Protestant businesses were ‘forced out’ in Letterkenny at the time, he said, employing some 200 people.

His father, who was unwell, said: “Joe, go to Canada, have a look around and then come home and take Margaret and the three children with you. There is nothing left here for you in Donegal.”

Mr Patterson believes he was treated unfairly in the boycott by the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and two Dublin barristers he had asked to help.

In 1977 his Donegal solicitor was intimidated to drop his case and then suffered a mental breakdown.

“Despite many complaints of intimidation, the theft of four tons of sirloin steak, harassment to myself and my family not one charge was ever laid by the Garda,” he said.

Although one suspect admitted involvement to Joe and came into a small fortune soon after, Garda said there were no grounds for an investigation.

“We sought help from Paddy Harte TD who trained as a butcher with us. He, as a TD, promised to do what he could in Dublin.

“A week later we received an answer that he had been instructed by his boss, Liam Cosgrave TD not to get involved.

“Our customers were warned by the IRA not to do business with us and we were forced to close down in June 1973, as there were no customers left.”

Joe and his wife, Margaret, 39, their son David, 10, and his two daughters nine and five, left for Vancouver in 1974 where they now live.