Today is the anniversary of the death of IRA volunteers Danny Doherty and Willie Fleming who were killed while on active service in 1984. Danny Doherty was from the Creggan Estate in Derry. He came from a close knit family with strong republican views. His father, two brothers and sister were all imprisoned for their republican beliefs. Danny joined Na Fianna Éireann at 14. Throughout his time in Na Fianna, he proved to be of invaluable assistance to the IRA. At 17, Danny lied about his age and became a member of the IRA. A short time after, Danny was imprisoned in Portlaoise Jail for membership and possession of explosives. He spent three years and ten months there. The conditions in Portlaoise at the time were very bad, with beatings and strip-searches. Once, Danny had to go three months without a visit. On his release, Danny reported back to the IRA and when asked what role he envisaged for himself, he promptly and without hesitation insisted on rejoining an active service unit.
Willie Fleming was born and raised in the Top of the Hill area of Waterside, Derry. He was the sixth of seven children of Leo and Betty. Three of Willie’s brothers were POWs and Willie grew up in the midst of a conflict that took its toll on his community and on his family. He joined the ranks of Na Fianna at the age of 14 and was an extremely valuable resource to the Derry Brigade staff. As a member of Fianna Éireann, Willie was always active, either collecting information for the IRA or being active within the organisation. He attended several Ard Fheiseanna and spoke on many occasions. When Willie joined the IRA at 17, he became an invaluable asset, being intelligent, trustworthy and always anxious to play his role in any operation against crown forces.
On Thursday 6 December 1984, Danny and Willie were driving on a motorbike on active service through Derry. When they entered the grounds of Gransha Hospital, an SAS man drove a car into the motorbike, dislodging Willie from the pillion seat. As he lay on the ground, two further SAS members shot him, first with 9mm pistols, until they ran out of ammunition, and then with HK 53 sub-machine guns. His autopsy showed that he had four gunshot wounds to his head and 56 to his trunk and torso. When Willie was knocked off the bike it went out of control, mounting a kerb and throwing the already shot Danny to the ground. Two more SAS men then continued to empty their weapons into him. At Danny’s inquest, the coroner stated that Danny had three gunshot wounds to the head and 21 to the trunk. Danny and Willie, although armed with pistols, had no chance either to defend themselves or to surrender. They were shot down by the Brits under the shoot-to-kill policy. Following the shootings, the RUC left the bodies lying where they had fallen for over five hours, before eventually removing them to Altnagelvin Hospital.
All four men were given full military funerals. At the funeral of Antoine Mac Giolla Bhríghde, the RUC, wielding batons, tried to remove the Tricolour from the coffin. They insisted on putting Land Rovers in the centre of the cortege and rammed the family car to get behind the hearse. The family then stopped the funeral until the RUC removed themselves from the cortege. After 20 minutes, the RUC pulled out of the cortege and the mourners made their way to St Mary’s Church, where Gerry Adams gave the oration. Ciarán Fleming’s body was not found until 21 December. His funeral took place on Christmas Eve and, despite further attacks by the RUC, Ciarán was laid to rest by his comrades with full military honours.
Willie Fleming’s funeral from the Waterside joined up with that of Danny Doherty of Creggan. It was the largest funeral in Derry City since the death of Patsy O’Hara. The coffins were draped with Tricolours and four IRA Volunteers in full uniform fired volleys over the coffins. Over 3,000 people followed the cortege to Derry City Cemetery. In his oration, Martin McGuinness said: “We are an occupied country and those brave enough to fight repression deserve nothing but respect and unfailing support from us all. Only the IRA can bring Britain to the negotiating table.”
Willie and Danny by Pangur Ban.