OBITUARY: Larry Doherty, celebrated Londonderry pictures man

Larry Doherty
Larry Doherty

Larry Doherty spent close to half a century at one of the Province’s biggest newspapers.

What is more, the Londonderry man entered front-line journalism just at the time the Province began to plunging into decades of bombings and bloodshed.

Born on January 30, 1930 in the city’s Bogside, his family were business owners who ran the Doherty’s Home Bakery firm.

He had attended the Christian Brothers school, but his formal education did not last long; around the end of World War Two, he joined the Derry Journal newspaper, aged 14.

He was working as what was then known as a printer and engraver; a job which essentially involved setting up the images on the metal plates which were used to press copies of the paper.

He spent roughly a quarter-of-a-century in the print room, before making the decision to become a photographer.

One of his first memorable jobs was covering the civil rights demonstration as it crossed the Craigavon Bridge on October 5, 1968.

The march was violently broken up, and has been regarded by some as the ‘official’ start of the Troubles.

One of his pictures later went on display in the Ulster Museum to highlight the event

He also photographed Bloody Sunday (on his birthday), republican victim Martha Doherty (who was tied to a post and tarred in the Bogside for fraternising with a soldier), and many other striking events.

“He covered a lot of seminal stuff,” said son Lorcan.

“And he would’ve been in a few hairy situations.”

On one occasion, he had been covering a loyalist march on the Waterside when a handful of demonstrators broke ranks and began a melee.

Suddenly, out of the crowd came unionist councillor Jim Guy, who put his arms around him and protected him.

He also photographed a lot of world leaders visiting the Province too.

“He was quite intrigued by Margaret Thatcher when she came here,” said Lorcan.

“I think he was quite taken by her; her presence. I think he went out not expecting to enjoy the experience, and did.”

Though he would have been of a nationalist bent, “he had no time for the Troubles” said his son.

When the family would watch the news of the latest atrocity at home on the TV, “the only comment he would ever make was: ‘that’s some mother’s son’ – whether it was a policeman, civilian, loyalist. That was the only kind of comment.”

He retired in 1995.

He had met his wife Grace (formerly McGuinness) in around 1954, when she was 17 and he was 24. They married four years later, and went on to leave the Bogside.

He was diagnosed with kidney cancer around seven years ago, and Alzheimers shortly afterwards.

He died at a nursing home on March 4. He was 85.

Lorcan said it was a “simply a combination of things”, including his cancer.

“My sister, a doctor, said he had the heart of a lion, but everything else is falling apart.”

Paying tribute, Martin Cowley, ex-Reuters Ireland correspondent and former colleague of Larry Doherty on The Derry Journal, said: “Throughout his career, he had the skill and personality that gave his work a rare and very special dimension: he was a local newspaper photographer who simultaneously covered a world-class story for national and international audiences – ‘The Troubles’ that gripped Northern Ireland for so long...

“He had an immense reputation for the quality of his output which illustrated the scale of tension, hurt, tragedy and bravery.

“Larry was a person of great fun and warmth. Popular and always generous in helping colleagues, he knew where to be ‘to get the photo’ and was known and respected by every photographer who came to Derry during the dark days.

“He was one of a gifted and courageous band of world class photographers to whom we owe a huge debt.”

His funeral was on March 6 at St Patrick’s, Pennyburn, and he was buried in the City Cemetery.

His wife died in 1989, but he is survived by daughters Grannie, Moira and Dara, sons Ciaran, Lorcan, Phelim and Ronan, and siblings Billy and Breege. He had eight grandchildren.