Businessman deeply involved in Derry’s politics and development

James Doherty: September 29th, 1924 - May 22nd, 2015

James Doherty, who has died aged 90, played a major part in the commercial and civic life of his home city of Derry during the second half of the 20th century.

He developed and expanded the family business, Doherty Meats, which was founded in 1830 and after six generations is still in the family’s ownership.

As well as being a major local employer he had a strong sense of civic duty. He was a Nationalist member of Derry Corporation for many years until its abolition in 1970. There he fought for the city’s Catholic majority, shut out from political power and suffering discrimination. At the same time, he had cordial relations with Unionists. He was for some time chairman of the Nationalist Party, which in those times represented most Northern nationalists.

Area plan

Seeing the need for economic development, he became involved in the 1960s in preparing the first Derry Area Plan.


James Doherty’s personal generosity flowed from a deep and traditional Christian faith. If approached for financial assistance, he always obliged. At Christmas he would send a number of the city’s street drinkers to a gent’s outfitters and pay for them to be newly clothed.

Doherty Meats made its mark on local cuisine through two products in particular that were famous in the city and environs: Doherty’s Special Mince and Doherty’s Sausages. The mince was a ground-beef product flavoured with spices, an innovation at the time.

James Doherty was born in September 1924, the only child of Tom Doherty, a butcher, and his wife, Sarah (née Devlin). The family lived over the shop in the city centre.

He received secondary education at St Columb's College in Derry, where his lifelong love of the Irish language began to blossom. After school he attended University College Dublin, where he obtained a first class honours degree in Commerce and Economics and served as auditor of the Commerce and Economics Society. His successor in that role was Charles Haughey.

As a student, during the Emergency, he served in the Local Defence Force, returning, after graduation, to Derry and the family business. This he expanded from shops to meat production and distribution, opening a slaughtering and meat-processing plant over the Border in Letterkenny.

Fleet of vans

He also transformed the retail operation, with a fleet of vans covering country areas, and introduced pre-packed meat products with the price on the packaging. This was an innovation. He bought out several small butchers, but kept them on as employees.

As a practical Christian, he did his best to treat staff well: the business operated a “No 2 Account”, which gave interest-free loans to staff.

When the civil rights movement started in 1968 Doherty became treasurer of the main local organising group, the Citizens’ Action Committee. He counselled caution, fearing the escalation of violence. Violence, however, did escalate.

Despite the difficulties of the Troubles he kept the business going. It was a blow when, in one incident, a bomb destroyed the former family home. Through the Troubles a former employee, Martin McGuinness, was to become increasingly prominent, and ultimately Deputy First Minister. In his late 60s, Doherty transferred executive functions in the business to two of his sons. However, he continued to attend the office every day, pursuing his many other interests.

He served on a wide range of boards, among them the North West Regional College, the Western Education and Library Board and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. He was a member of a committee set up to expand the University of Ulster and in his mid-80s still served on the boards of three schools.

Christian faith

A man of strong Christian faith, he was a member of the Knights of Columbanus and a papal knight.

James Doherty is survived by five daughters and four sons. His wife, Phyllis, and son Mícheál predeceased him.