Derry Journal
31 March 2012

Mary Ellen O’Doherty

A special annual award has been created in the United States in honour of the late Mary Ellen O’Doherty, a Derry woman often referred to as the ‘mother of civil rights.’

The inaugural O’Doherty Memorial Award will be presented at the Frank O’Neill Memorial Dinner which will be held in Chicago this summer.

The dinner is being held in memory of Frank O’Neill, an Irish born former prisoner who emigrated to Chicago, in recognition for his campaigning work on behalf of nationalists in the North. He was involved in many groups and became prominent as a leader of the Irish Freedom Committees in America.

Mrs O’Doherty, who died in 2007 in her 100th year, was heavily involved in republican activities for much of her adult life. Her husband, Harry, was a member of the Irish Volunteers and was the last surviving Derry veteran of the War of Independence.

She was also a strong advocate for the homeless of the city and supported the residents of Springtown Camp in their demands for better housing.

In the late 1960s she became involved in the Civil Rights movement and many of leaders of the movement were regular visitors to her home, where meetings were often held.

He son, Fionnbarra O Dochartaigh, was one of the founding members of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967.

Mrs O’Doherty’s involvement with the campaign in the late 1960s earned her the name, ‘Mother of Civil Rights.’

In her later years, she was named by Age Concern as the ‘Pensioner of the Year’ at an event in Derry’s Guildhall after being nominated by a panel of cross-community activists. She was also an honorary member of the Derry District No. 1 branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

She was presented with a celtic cross by the Celtic Cross Awards Society, Boston, on her 99th birthday.

The O’Doherty Memorial Award will be presented annually to “an outstanding female who has actively shown their dedication to the cause of liberty, equality and fraternity in Ireland.”

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