Paddy had his first taste of the injustice in life at the age of 11, when, despite being top of his class at junior school, he was unable to take up a place at the local grammar school when his father, a docker, was told by his Headmaster : "Look you're wasting your time. On a docker's wages you could not buy his books. You might get a scholarship, but you'd have to buy his books, you'd have to buy his clothes. No use. Get him out and get him a job." Despite leaving school at the age of 13 and starting in carpentry, he never lost faith in himself : 'I could've been a scientist. I was good at mathematics. I could've been a surgeon. I was good with my hands. Any of those things, but those opportunities were blocked so I had to find a way around them in order to express myself.' At the age of 18 he had also had his first taste of the effects of death and destruction when he was posted to England at the end of the Second World War to serve his two years National Service undertaking clearing city bomb damage which left him with an admiration for the English people for their stoicism.
In 1969, at the age of 43, Paddy was propelled centre stage in the events in August which culminated in the 'Battle of the Bogside' and became a major figure thereafter, in what became known as 'Free Derry'. From the start of the year tension between nationalists in the Bogside and the Royal Ulster Constabulary had been very high and the tone for what was to follow that summer was set when in January and again in April, the Force entered the Bogside and carried out attacks on people and property. Things became more inflamed with the attack on and subsequent death of father of nine , 42 year old Sammy Devenney by the RUC in his home.
With the approach of the annual March of the 'Apprentice Boys of Derry' in August, tensions were at boiling point in the City. In July, Paddy with others was instrumental in setting up the 'Derry Citizens' Defence Association' and on August 10 he met with the Apprentice Boys to request they cancel or re-route the march. When the request was refused the die was effectively cast for violence.
On August 12, as the Apprentice Boys parade passed through the city centre on the outskirts of the Bogside, lines of RUC men faced nationalist youths. Paddy, along with John Hume and Eddie McAteer, attempted to control the crowd, but their efforts were not successful and the first stones were hurled at the RUC. After a stand-off lasting several hours, serious rioting broke out along the Strand Road and the order was given to the RUC to baton charge. Their efforts were quickly repelled and another stand-off emerged.
In the violence which followed, for three days the Bogside was catapulted onto tv screens across the world as the RUC repeatedly attempted to get into the Bogside, but were beaten back at every attempt. 'The Battle of the Bogside', as it became known. ended on August 14, when on request from the Stormont Government, British troops entered Derry to relieve a battered and beleaguered police force.
Paddy recalled : "The police were standing there with their batons and shields. They were in a state of shock. They were wiped out anyway. The police were defeated and they must have known that. That's why the Army were brought in." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4Ai6QND-vc&t=2m45s
With the confusion with the arrival of the troops, Paddy as the 'Vice-Chaiman' of the Defence Association and 'de facto' leader of the Bogside approached the Army line and with hand on hip pleaded with them : "Gentleman, please, it is very important. Is their a superior officer ? Please leave gentlemen." He recalled : "And there was a kind of silence and I pleaded again and shortly afterwards, someone pulled the barricade over and says : "Come on in" and I was aghast at that." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4Ai6QND-vc&t=5m15s
Asked to define the status of the area behind the erected barricades Paddy said : "It's just a group of people, twenty-five, thirty thousand people, who have decided the system of justice hasn't been quite good enough and they are now looking after it themselves." Paddy's demands to the Army were simple and uncompromising : The Bogside barricades were not to be breached and the police were to be kept off the streets. The Army instantly agreed to his terms.
Paddy's house now became the headquarter's of 'Free Derry', that part of the City protected by more than 30 barricades and a symbol for Nationalists across Northern Ireland. In a public statement he said :"We are, at this moment, simply sitting pretty within our own area. We are doing nothing else but saying to the whole world at large : "The eight hundred and eighty-eight acres and two roods of this City are under our control. The writ of Stormont does not run here. We are the law within this area." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4Ai6QND-vc&t=15m18s
He met with Army officers again and :"Then we began to talk and they said :"What do we do now ?" and I said "Well, we have certain things we require in the Bogside. There's prisoners inside because of the riots. We have civil rights demands." They said :"Why don't you right them down for us ?"
"The Army phones me and said : "Look Mr Doherty. There's a bus up in Creggan on Rosemount and that bus is a new bus, very expensive bus" and I said : "Well that was the trophy of the Battle. That bus was won by the people up there and it's their bus." The Army went back to Ulster Bus, brokered a deal, put an old bus in the barricade. The Defence Association said : "We will dismantle the barricades when the RUC is disbanded, the B Specials are disbanded, when Stormont is abolished." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4Ai6QND-vc&t=20m02s
Paddy recognised the importance of keeping the rioters positively involved :"We had a lot of people involved in the rioting and they needed a role. They became the unofficial police force. We had to create roles for people at the time." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4Ai6QND-vc&t=22m03s
James Callaghan the Home Secretary in Harold Wilson's Government met with Paddy and other leaders of the Defence Association and reported : "We had a very good conversation. They said :"Stormont's got to be abolished before we take the barricades down" and I said :"Sorry, that can't be done. I'm making no political agreement with you about that. Stormont remains." I wanted it to remain because I wanted to work though Stormont to get the reforms done and eventually they agreed." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4Ai6QND-vc&t=37m04s
With the need to take the barricades down and clean up the streets in the Bogside Paddy recalled : "I came up with the idea that we paint a white line around the area, which is incredible. We had the Bogside covered with this white line and I said to the Army : "You can't come across" and it was amazing, they were standing with their weapons and tanks and I said : "No, you can't come in here." We pulled it off. One officer jumped across, jumped over the white line and jumped right back again : "You tell Doherty I was inside Free Derry." The whole thing was almost a pantomime." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4Ai6QND-vc&t=47m07s
On the 10th October the Government published the Hunt Report in which it promised to reform the RUC under a new English Chief Constable, dismiss the B Specials and undertake housing and electoral reforms and the Defence Association announced its intention to stand down as Paddy recalled : "We'd done all we could with the situation and we hadn't lost a man o a child during that whole operation and we'd no intention of facing the Church, the British Army and the Police in a stupid effort in trying to hold this very marginal thing together. It was done. It performed its duty and it had to go." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4Ai6QND-vc&t=54m38s
Exhausted and short of money and now using his 'clerk of works' status in the building trade, Paddy left the province to taking up a contract on a building project in Jamaica and when he returned to Derry in 1972 after the events of Bloody Sunday, he found the Bogside in a state of siege under the banner of 'Free Derry' with residents surrounded by police and the British Army.
Paddy now eschewed involvement in the politics of the City. He was thinking about the possibility of setting up a building business with his two sons, one a quantity surveyor and the other an accountant when he met Professor Ivor Browne, who, when he told him he was a builder said : "Then build people. Anyone can build buildings" Inspired, he began to think of ways to help the Bogside Community. He had already been involved in restraining the youth of the area from involvement in escalating violence often forced on the community by the actions of the Provisional IRA and the security forces and now saw them, as Browne had said as 'the children of war and violence.'
Paddy once said : "I've learned that a tree will grow if it has proper soil, if it has proper sunlight, if it has proper air. They won't grow unless the atmosphere is correct for them. So, what you have to do is get the people involved in creating jobs for themselves, seeking education in every form, working together in groups."