Doherty, Kieran (1955–81), hunger-striker and paramilitary, was born 16 October 1955 in Andersonstown, west Belfast, third among six children of Alfred Doherty, floor-tiler (subsequently manager of the republican Andersonstown Social Club) and his wife Margaret, a convert to catholicism from a protestant background, who was highly articulate and participated in demonstrations in support of the H-block protest. The Dohertys settled in west Belfast in the 1920s after being expelled from north Belfast by loyalists; they subsequently had a long tradition of republican activity. Two of Doherty's brothers were interned between 1972 and 1974, and Doherty's paternal uncle, Ned Maguire, was an IRA man who escaped from Crumlin Road jail in January 1943; another uncle, Gerry Fox, also joined the IRA and escaped from Crumlin Road in 1972.
Doherty was educated in St Theresa's primary school, Glen Road, and the local Christian Brothers' secondary school. He was an active athlete, winning an Antrim Minor medal for Gaelic football in 1971. Doherty left school at the age of 16 and held short-term semi-skilled jobs until October 1972, when he fled south of the border to escape arrest. He joined the Provisional IRA youth wing, Fianna Éireann, in October 1971 and the senior organisation in March 1972. Over 6 ft tall, he was known to his friends as ‘Big Doc’. Doherty was interned on 15 February 1973 and released on 7 November 1975, becoming active in the Andersontown IRA. On 5 April 1976 he was a member of an IRA group that planted a bomb at the Conway Hotel, Belfast; Mairead Farrell (qv) was arrested while planting the bomb and another member of the group was killed by a police reservist whose car they tried to hijack.
On 25 August 1976 Doherty was arrested after IRA men on a bombing mission were intercepted by security forces. In January 1978 he was sentenced to eighteen years' imprisonment for possession of arms and four years for hijacking a car. He was known for loyalty to those who lived up to his high standards of loyalty and intolerance towards those who showed weakness. His resistance to violent and intrusive body searches provoked severe mistreatment by warders. On 22 May 1981 he became the seventh prisoner to go on hunger strike, replacing the third man to die, Raymond McCreesh. In the June 1981 Irish general election Doherty was elected TD for Cavan–Monaghan as an H-block candidate, polling 9,121 votes, the most successful of a group of prisoner candidates whose unexpectedly strong performance showed the extent of sympathy for the hunger strikers in the Republic. The election of Doherty and a second (non-hunger-striking) prisoner to the dáil also contributed to the defeat of the first Haughey government.
Doherty's last days were dominated by tension over an initiative by a British government emissary, Michael Oatley, who offered concessions amounting to less than the prisoners' five demands. Doherty supported the other prisoners' decision to refuse anything short of the five demands: ‘No one comes near me until we get the five demands . . . Thatcher can't break us. I'm not a criminal.’ (A member of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Commission for Justice and Peace who participated in the negotiations subsequently described Doherty as ‘a saint’.) There was also some disagreement between his parents, who supported his determination to maintain his hunger strike to the end, and his girlfriend, who believed that the prisoners were being manipulated and that he should have been taken off when he became delirious. Kieran Doherty died 2 August 1981 after seventy-three days on hunger strike, the longest-surviving hunger striker and the eighth to die. In July 2001 monuments to him were unveiled at Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan, and in Andersonstown, Belfast, as part of the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the hunger strike.