‘When your da dies so suddenly, killed by a soldier’s bullet, it does things to your head and body that you can’t really work out.
Something had changed in me’
The Dead Beside Us : A Memoir of Growing up in Derry is a novel by writer Tony Doherty. It was published by Mercier Press in October 2017 and follows on from This Man’s Wee Boy, which was published in 2016.
I received my copy a few months back from Deirdre Roberts of Mercier Press and I wish to apologise for the delay with my review. The Dead Beside Us is a completely different read for me and I guess I was a little afraid of it’s contents and the history within it’s pages. I can honestly say now that was an error of judgement on my behalf. This is a very moving personal story. This is an important book for all, no matter your politics.
Please read on for my honest and unbiased thoughts…
In this sequel to the acclaimed ‘This Man’s Wee Boy’, young Tony Doherty struggles to come to terms with the murder of his father, Paddy, on Bloody Sunday and the impact it has on his mother, Eileen, and his brothers and sisters. At nine years old, he knows a terrible wrong has been committed against his family but lacks the understanding or the means to do anything about it – yet.
For his fractured family, life goes on, with Tony determined to preserve the memory of his father and the bond they shared, even as he becomes increasingly immersed in the violent conflict raging on Derry’s streets. As the 1970s unfold his father’s absence remains the backdrop to the teenage Tony’s newfound friendships and relationships, an ever-present ache amidst the craic and excitement of Sunday dances, first kisses and a trip to Butlins. Then, at seventeen, Tony decides it’s time to join the fight.
First off I’m Irish. I’m from Cork, which is south of the country in the Republic of Ireland. I was a child of the seventies so the events that took place in Northern Ireland at that time completely passed me by. Bloody Sunday to me was always captured by the now famous image of Father Edward Daly waving a white blood stained handkerchief as a wounded individual was been carried to safety. I knew it was a day where there was a shift in the political agenda in Northern Ireland, but to my shame…not much more. To me it was far away and didn’t impact my life in any real manner. As I grew into my teenage years I watched the news and was aware of The Troubles but I have never picked up a memoir of those days from someone who lived through it.
The Dead Beside Us is a very poignant and quite chilling record of these terrible days from the perspective of a young boy who lost his daddy in a horrendous fashion. Life changed for that boy on the 30th January 1972 and this is his story.
Tony Doherty describes growing up in a world that many of us are unable to comprehend, a world full of violence where one decision could impact the rest of your life. For me I found the book terribly sad. Here is a young boy of nine years of age, who no longer takes too much notice of the nightly sounds of gunshots. Taking cover from bomb explosion becomes the norm.
What I find truly fascinating was the determination and grit to keep going. Tony’s mother, Eileen, though struck down with grief after the sudden loss of her husband, continues to raise her kids as best she can. The support from the local community is incredible in these times and I think there was a local wit and humour that carried many through these treacherous events.
Tony reflects on his first kiss, his first girlfriend but he also speaks of pipe bombs and blood. For a young boy growing up the grief and fear, after the brutal loss of a father, must do strange things to the mind. Revenge can easily surface and change a person’s view on life and for a young Tony Doherty, this revenge drove him on in his formative years. The innocence of that first kiss is in stark contrast to the regimental training that later followed after Tony decided to ‘join the fight’.
The Dead Beside Us is an incredibly poignant and heartbreaking tale of truth and the loss of innocence. The exposure to such violence is something no child in any part of this world should have to suffer. Tony Doherty’s writing brought a tear to me eye as I envisaged my children growing up in such an environment.
The Dead Beside Us is a fascinating, yet shockingly true story, as recounted from the memories of a nine year old boy. I have difficulty remembering what I was doing in great detail when I was of the same age, but the difference is I was safe…..that’s all I needed to ever know.
Moving, Harrowing, Compelling, Absorbing but most of all True….
Purchase Link ~ The Dead Beside Us
About The Author:
Tony Doherty grew up in the Brandywell area of Derry, a small, Catholic, working-class community that both his mother and father were from. He was instrumental in setting up a grass-roots campaign in 1992 which led, in 2010, to the exoneration of his father’s name and all those killed and wounded on Bloody Sunday, and to a public apology from British Prime Minister David Cameron. Tony works as the Regional Coordinator of the Healthy Living Centre Alliance and is involved in reform of the health service.
Twitter ~ @tonydutchdoc