by Seán Beattie

Fr Philip O’Doherty   

Fr. Philip O’Doherty was a significant figure in Carndonagh at the turn of the last century. Born in Derry in 1851, he was ordained in 1877. Fr. O’Doherty served twice in Carndonagh, first as curate from 1879 to 1890. It was during this period, when the Land War was at its peak, that he became involved in social justice campaigns. He demanded reform of the Land Acts and an end to a series of evictions across the county. In the Westminster elections of 1886, he played a major role in the election of Justin McCarthy as MP. From 1892 to 1898 he was “on loan” to the archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia. The process of sending priests abroad for a short time to assist parishes overseas was common at this time as there was a surplus of priests for the home mission. 


 In 1897 and 1898, the diocese of Derry was actively involved in celebrations to honour Colmcille. Fr Philip O’Doherty joined a team of churchmen who organised events to honour the saint both in Derry and Donegal. One of the main ceremonies was a nine month Novena in honour of the Sacred Heart in the Long Tower, Derry.  

A Calvary was erected outside the Long Tower church in 1898. At a Mass to mark the occasion, Fr O’Doherty, as a principal celebrant, was directed by Bishop O’Doherty to read a series of documents from the Pope. A number of indulgences were attached to the Calvary. A Plenary Indulgence could be gained by anyone who attended the ceremonies or who would visit the Calvary and pray at a later time. All the shirt factories were shut for the day and thus a huge crowd was present. A huge banner with a shamrock was erected at Howard St., Derry.  

The Colgan Hall 

Fr O’Doherty came back to Carndonagh in 1907 and immediately became involved with the Congested Districts Board to provide educational opportunities for women in Inishowen. Lace schools were established in which classes were held in lace making, crochet and domestic training. Seven years later, he opened the Colgan Hall where classes were held for men and women. Fr O’Doherty regularly gave lectures in the hall and invited many outstanding politicians, historians and activists to speak there.

He was particularly interested in promoting the work of John Colgan and he is credited with raising Colgan’s profile at home and abroad. When he returned to Carndonagh, Fr O’Doherty expressed surprise that the work of John Colgan was almost unknown in Ireland.

The prestigious Royal Irish Academy nominated Fr O’Doherty as a Member in recognition of his scholarship. He left Carndonagh in 1921 during the turbulent years of the War of Independence to become VF of the Inishowen Deanery.  

He died in 1927 and is buried in the Long Tower graveyard – his headstone describes him as a Priest, Patriot, Scholar and Orator. 

  • Seán Beattie, February 2021 

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