This week marks the 25th anniversary of the death of IRA Volunteer Martin ‘Doco’ Doherty, who died defending a Sinn Fein function at the Widow Scallans pub in Dublin from a bomb attack by the UVF. The following is an extract about the attack from the book ‘Volunteer Martin ‘Doco’ Doherty – That’s the sort of me’.
It was jammed upstairs. Too many people had turned up to support the Sinn Féin PoW Department function. It was just after 10pm and it was estimated that over 300 people had packed into the upstairs lounge of the Widow Scallan’s pub in Dublin’s Pearse Street. The main attraction, The Irish Brigade, were in full swing when Martin ‘Doco’ Doherty, who’d been collecting the admittance fee at the upstairs door, and the others doing security that fateful night agreed that the room was too packed. It was decided to close over the front doors.
Investigations by republicans involving dozens of eyewitnesses have allowed us to piece together what happened next.
At around 10:45pm, two people who wished to attend the function came into the bar and Doco engaged them in his usual banter about being late. They commented on the fact afterwards that they noticed an unmarked Garda car across the road as they entered and that they’d noticed two men acting suspiciously outside the pub.
The two went up into the function and Doco (with the front door closed and feeling that he’d finished his duty for the night) slipped down the back stairs to the public bar, where he was joined by two friends. The boxing match between Chris Eubank and Ray Close was blaring out from the TV screens around the pub and the three were soon engrossed, like everyone else, in the fight.
Minutes before the commercials on the TV, two men entered the bar and ordered a drink each but left again quite suddenly, one reaching for a bag he’d left down at the door.
What exactly happened we will never know but eyewitnesses state that they saw Doco come out of the pub and launch himself straight at the man who was at this stage standing with a gun in full view, signalling to the getaway car to come down, while his companion was bent over the bag at the stairwell. Doco succeeded in grappling with the gunman and knocked him onto a car. He was shot in the hand at this stage but continued to struggle, only for the other man to come from behind and knock him to the ground. At this stage the gunman stood over him and shot him dead. The man who had placed what turned out to be an explosive device in the stairwell was running towards the car, which then picked up the killer. They drove off, in no great rush it seemed, even stopping at the first set of lights, confident that they were not pursued by republicans or the state police force. The killers’ gold-coloured Triumph Acclaim was later found abandoned and burned out in Aldborough Place, on the northside of the city.
After hearing several bangs, the bar manager rushed out onto Pearse Street and found Martin Doherty lying on the ground outside the main door leading to the function room. He ran back inside to call an ambulance while the men who had been in Martin’s company rushed upstairs to the function room for fear that the killers had gained entry. It was then discovered that another man, Paddy Burke, lay injured on the front stairway, apparently hit by a bullet which had passed through the front doors.
All the entrances to the function room were sealed and barricaded as fear gripped many of those inside. Word filtered through the crowd that people had been shot and a member of the band called for anyone with medical experience to come forward.
People from the public bar and a few from the function went out onto the street to tend to Doco, who was lying face down. Others tended to Paddy Burke, lying wounded on the stairs. It was at this stage that a holdall bag, which contained a bomb, was discovered at the front door. Thinking the bag belonged to Doco, somebody went to move it but the detonator went off. People scattered in various directions across Pearse Street, some fearing that the killers were still in the vicinity and had opened fire again. They crouched behind parked cars until they were sure it was safe.
It was then that it became clear to people just what Martin Doherty had prevented. Had the killers succeeded in their task, their intent was to inflict death and injury on a massive scale. The bomb they were priming when they were disturbed would have ripped through the building, killing and maiming a large number of people in the packed pub.
Anger erupted as members of the Garda Special Branch came on the scene, with people pointing out that the function had been under observation all evening and yet gardaí were nowhere to be found when the killers struck. Passions were to be inflamed even more when several Special Branch men were seen joking, laughing and making snide remarks at the scene of the killing.
Stewards did their best to clear over 250 people from the function room and away from the building, successfully preventing any incidents developing between the Special Branch and patrons of the Widow Scallan’s.
As Doco was taken from the scene in an ambulance, people feared the worst for a man whose heroism had saved their lives. As friends and family rushed to the hospital, the worst was confirmed –– a friend was dead.
In a statement issued on Monday 23 May, the IRA’s Dublin Brigade said:
“Martin Doherty, the man killed in the UVF attack on Dublin’s Pearse Street, was a Volunteer of Dublin Brigade, Óglaigh na hÉireann. He died heroically in the defence of others at Widow Scallan’s on Saturday 21 May. His courage and quick thinking during the attack undoubtedly saved many lives.
“Martin Doherty prevented the loyalist attackers from gaining access to the function room, thereby averting widespread deaths and destruction.
“Óglaigh na hÉireann extends deepest sympathy to the family, partner and friends of Martin Doherty.”