extraordinarily ordinary life
In what he himself describes as an "extraordinarily
ordinary life" Eamon Melaugh has managed to cram into
70 years what most of us couldn't do in 200.
A well known photographer, Eamon's countless years of pictures
depict everything from his childhood days, Derry's civil
rights years, the Troubles, right through to 2002 with his
many visits to India.
Born in July 1933 in Bridge Street, looking back on his
younger days in Derry, Eamon is reminded of Frank McCourt's
famous novel 'Angela's Ashes.'
"People who have seen the movie have doubted that families
were forced to live in those conditions," he said.
"But I remember a time in Derry when people did live
in slums and in terrible poverty.
"When I was a very small child my father moved the
family to Belfast when he got a job there. We got a flat
above a butcher's shop in the Shankhill Road and lived quite
"One night the butcher told my father we would have
to leave. The "boys" had been round, told the
butcher they knew we were Catholics, and that we had to
"Needless to say, we moved back to Derry very swiftly.
"Times were tough but we didn't realise how tough.
Childhood days for us were full of joy Derry's streets were
safe and there was no violence or crime. You could walk
through Derry at any hour of the day and feel safe. No one
ever locked their front doors, no one would ever think they
would be robbed.
"We played all day in the streets with old bikes and
tyres and for a football we would stuff one of my father's
socks with newspaper and kick it around."
When he was older Eamon and his family moved to a house
in Ann Street that seemed to them like the most beautiful
house in the world.
"For the first time in our life we had electric lights,"
he said. "We had central heating that gave us hot water,
and even a fridge. We were awe-struck by the mod cons. We
even had members of our extended family coming into the
house so they would be able to have a bath!"
However, times in Derry remained tough especially for men
looking for work and after leaving school Eamon travelled
to Scotland and England where he secured several jobs working
as a labourer.
But the pangs of homesickness never left him and eventually
he returned and married the first and only love of his life,
May, affectionately known by Eamon as Mrs. Melaugh."
"I met May when my friend, Hugo Sharkey and I got tickets
for a church social in Saint Columb's Hall. I was quite
shy (you wouldn't believe it now!) and when we met up with
a group of girls I didn't have much to say for myself.
"The next day I found out that May had been asking
for me and I took her to a dance at the Ashfield Hall. That
sealed the beginning of our romance and we are still romancing
"We were married in a simple ceremony in the Long Tower
Church in 1956 and had a modest reception in May's mother's
After their marriage Eamon and May moved to England for
a short while but eventually returned to Derry.
"When we returned housing was a serious problem in
the city," he said. "Although May and I were on
the list for a house we knew we would have to wait a long
time for it.
"In the meantime we took a room in Albert Street in
the Waterside with a Protestant family. We had our first
child at the time and there wasn't much room in the place
we were living.
"However we were forced to leave our home when the
owner of the house told us that he and his wife were moving
back to the country.
"I was delighted when he told me this. It meant that
we went straight to the top of the housing list and before
we knew it we were standing outside our new house in Creggan.
My wife cried when I told her we got the house in Creggan,
she was delighted.
"Ten more children were born in the house in Creggan
including twins who were born on February 29, celebrating
birthdays only every four years."
Despite having his own house Eamon was passionate about
securing proper housing for the people of Derry.
"I put an ad in the Derry section of the 'Belfast Telegraph'
inviting 'men of action who wanted to sort the housing problem'
to come along. We later formed the Unemployed Action Committee
and Housing Action Committee," he explained.
"The term 'action' in these two committees was a deliberate
reflection of the desire to use the tactics of 'non-violent
direct action' to force the Unionist controlled Derry Corporation
and the Unionist government at Stormont in Belfast to introduce
policies that would deal with the twin problems of unemployment
On one occasion Eamon was a key figure amongst the group
of men who pulled a caravan across Hamilton Street demonstrating
against the poor housing in Derry.
"That was the first act of public disobedience in Derry,"
he said. "We then focused on our civil rights struggle.
We wanted one man, one vote."
Eamon was a marcher on Bloody Sunday in 1972 and has haunting
memories of that day."As we were marching down Westland
Street, I ran ahead of the march to check what was blocked
in the town. I had my camera with me as normal.A Royal Anglican
saw me with the camera and pointed his rifle at me. At that
moment someone grabbed me and pulled me up Waterloo Street.
When I turned round I saw that it was Barney McGuigan who
had pulled me away and as we now know, Barney was sadly
killed in the gunfire that day.
"For a year afterwards I couldn't walk past that spot
because of the memories. I was haunted by that day. Afterwards
I totally rejected violence.
"I am not a religious man but I live by the fifth commandment:
'Though shalt not kill.' I don't even eat meat anymore."
Eamon has been a keen amateur photographer for many decades
and regularly carried a camera grabbing photographs of events
occurring in Derry.
Eamon and May raised a large family of four daughters and
seven sons. When the last of the children left home Eamon
and May began to foster children on a short and medium term
basis. In total they fostered 15 children.
"May and I began fostering when the nest was nearly
empty," he said. "It is a great tribute to my
children that May and I fostered. We raised eleven level
headed individuals and still wanted to do more for other
"I was inspired to foster by my aunt, Julie Melaugh
who was called 'the saint of the Wells.'
She took in waifs and strays from all over Derry and fed
and cared for them.
"We are still in touch with many of the children we
fostered and one of the girls we looked after as a baby
is now living in Glen and wants to meet up with us. She
calls us her "first Mum and Dad."
Now happily retired Eamon has turned his hand to a new project
by helping the street children of India.
Each year he travels to India and walks the streets feeding
and clothing young children and making donations to the
"My experiences in India have completely changed me,"
he said. "On my first trip I was sitting in a cafe
having a meal when I was aware of a small child staring
at me. When I looked closer I saw that he was actually staring
at my plate and waiting to eat my leftovers. After much
protestation from the waiter I insisted that he give the
child a meal. Afterwards I took the child and bought him
clothes. I then realised that this was something I could
do every day there and give the people some help.
"I have seen people whose bodies are rotting away with
leprosy and children starving and living in appalling conditions.
"It is hard to watch, but I know I can do something
to help. Many people I know have given me donations to help.
I want to give everyone who knows me the opportunity to
give a donation now so l can help these starving children
on my next visit to India.
"Remember that the hand that gives is holier than the
mouth that prays."
Courtesy of Erin Doherty (Derry Journal) 2002