NEW STEVIE MCCREA, JOHN HANNA AND SAMMY MEHAFFY MURAL
Saturday the 8th of September 2012
The turn-out for the un-veiling of the new mural for Stevie, John and Sammy was very well attended and the organisers, in a great move, had coincided the un-veiling with the annual John Hanna parade. I attended the event and was very impressed with the organisation of the whole event. There were tributes fromScotland,Englandand all parts ofNorthern Irelandand our friend Colin Beckett read out a very heartfelt tribute to the three young men. Representatives of all three families attended and received floral tributes and other mementos.
Standing in the crowd was quite emotional for me. I’m from the ‘Village’ and still have a lot of friends there – the place is changing and we will see if it is for the better.
Returning to the ‘Village’ was great but what caused me to feel emotional was the ‘connection’ I felt with the young men being remembered. Stevie and myself were founder members of the Red Hand Commando in the ‘Village’ and became friends and comrades in Long Kesh, were we both served life sentences. As we know, Stevie never got the chance to become an ‘ex-prisoner’ as he was murdered on his last official day on the ‘work-out’ scheme.
After I became leader-in-charge of Charter Youth Club, John became a member and was a regular attender who, as he got older, started to socialise with me and my friends. He was great company, very funny, polite and could laugh at himself – he reminded me of his Dad, who I knew for years. I didn’t really know young Sammy but knew his Mum and Dad very well. I used to socialise with Sammy’s dad ,Terry and can remember loads of Sunday nights in the BCT club near the BBC. Terry used to keep himself immaculate and was never without chewing gum! So, with all this going through my head as I watched from the crowds I couldn’t help but think that the greatest tribute we can pay to friends and comrades is to never forget them. Those of us who have survived are the lucky ones – we should never forget that.
The following article is a verbatim reproduction produced by comrades of Stevie McCrea, following his murder at the Orange Cross Club on Craven Street, Shankill Roadon the 18th of February, 1989.
On Thursday, 16th February, 1989, Stephen McCrea was at his work in aBelfast enterprise zone and, upon receiving his pay cheque, he and several of his workmates decided to go and cash their cheques in a Bank atCraven Street, off theShankill Road.
It happened to be Stephen McCrea’s last day at work on the ACE scheme in which he worked. It was to be a fateful day for a young man so well liked by all of his colleagues at work.
After cashing their cheques someone in the group suggested that they have a lunch-time drink in the local Orange Cross Club just down the street from the Bank. It seemed an appropriate way to bid their friend farewell after working together for the past year. But it was to be the last moments of happiness and laughter for a young man who loved life and had so much to look forward to.
At 1.15 p.m. someone outside pressed the security buzzer to seek admission to the Club. As the door opened, three gunmen brushed inside and ordered the men in the room to stand at the bar. They pretended it was a robbery at first and once everyone was at their mercy one of the gunmen started blasting indiscriminately at the men. It was a few seconds of mayhem and in the gunfire that raged, Stephen McCrea was fatally wounded. One of his work-mates described the scene…….
‘I stood in line whenever the first shot was fired and all of a sudden Stevie McCrea dived in front of me. The shots rang out and we all hit the floor. By this time the gunmen had run out of the room and we all stood up again. That is, except for two other men and Stevie McCrea. He had saved my life alright but lost his own in doing so’.
Two days after the tragic events inside the Orange Cross Club, Stevie McCrea died in theRoyalVictoriaHospital. Upon realising they had shot a former Loyalist prisoner the IPLO issued a gloating statement in which they tried to justify their blatant sectarianism by claiming to have singled Stevie McCrea out for attack. They revelled in the knowledge that the young man who had died to save the life of a friend had a ‘loyalist history’.
The truth was that Stevie had been an unfortunate who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time that fateful afternoon. The IPLO claimed the attack, but rather than win credibility for themselves, they succeeded only in hardening the Ulster Protestants resolve never to surrender to republicanism and to reinforce their will to resist all attempts at forcing a United Ireland upon them.
Stevie McCrea’s death was just one more in the long and bloody catalogue of events in which Loyalist lives have so callously been taken by the so-called republicans but it serves as yet another milestone along the road which takes us further away from a United Ireland. And if the republican movement have not got the message by now that one million Ulster Protestants cannot be shot into a United Ireland, they never will!
However, the story of Stevie McCrea must be told in full and it is true to state that he had been a former Loyalist Prisoner.
Stevie McCrea was a member of the Red Hand Commando organisation as a youth inBelfast. In 1972, at the height of the tit-for-tat war that raged in those awful years, Stevie was sentenced to ‘Life’ for his part in a retaliatory shooting inBelfast. He was sent to Long Kesh on Halloween Night in 1972 and was to spend the next fifteen years of his young life in those bleak, soul-destroying cages.
Stevie McCrea, however, served out his time with dignity and courage. He was to be a tower of strength to many of his comrades and gave inspiration and hope to many. A typical young man from the ‘Village’, he had the heart of ten men, the defiance of a dozen and the courage of twenty.
In February 1974, Stevie McCrea was involved in a marathon escape bid from Long Kesh Camp. At the time, he was being held in the Loyalist Compound 19 as a Special Category prisoner.
An ‘x-ray’ van was driven into the Camp for the purpose of taking chest x-rays of all prisoners. The van arrived in the Loyalist end of the Camp on a Monday afternoon. It was a typical freezing February afternoon and the Loyalists of Compound 19 were being escorted from their Compound to the van which was parked outside.
Stevie McCrea was walking alongside a comrade whenever he realised that the attending Prison Officers were not looking. He seized the moment and dived underneath the van. He rolled beneath it and climbed onto the axle stand and lay perfectly still.
It had been a spontaneous decision and once it had been realised by his comrades they soon covered up for his absence. That evening, as the Prisoners were lined up for the evening ‘head-count’, one of his comrades done the ‘Colditz Shuffle’ and was counted twice. But it was not to be so easy for Stevie. He had to endure two long and freezing days and nights lying under the ‘x-ray’ van wearing only a thin denim jacket and jeans. And on the third evening he managed to get inside the van itself and conceal himself in a broom cupboard. On the fourth day the van was finally taken from the Camp. It successfully got through the security checkpoint at the Prison Officer’s gate and was at the main gate out of the Camp whenever the army made a routine search. A young ‘Squaddie’ stumbled upon Stevie under some coats in the broom cupboard and raised the alert. Stevie was hastily taken to the punishment cells and held for three days in solitary confinement.
Upon his release from ‘solitary’ Stevie returned to the Compound and from that day on became known as ‘x-ray’ McCrea.
It must be made clear that upon his release from Long Kesh, Stevie McCrea was not re-involved in any paramilitary activities whatsoever! It is well known that all the Loyalist groups have a strict policy that ‘Lifers’, upon release, are not to be in any shape or fashion in current paramilitary activities. Stevie McCrea, in that brief period of freedom, lived only to pick up the threads of life again. He posed no threat to anyone and sought only an opportunity to get married, settle down and enjoy the remainder of his life in peace.
At the funeral of Stevie McCrea, there were no paramilitary trappings. His former comrades did pay their respects in a dignified and fitting manner however. Amongst the mourners were no fewer than two hundred and fifty Loyalist ex-prisoners and 20 Loyalist ‘ex-lifers’. For that reason and to safeguard their security no cameramen were permitted to take photographs.
The presence of so many ex-Loyalist Prisoners bears testimony to the esteem in which young Stevie McCrea was held. Two simple wreaths bearing the Red Hand of Ulster were placed on an Ulster Flag which draped his coffin. A brief pause was made at a localLoyalist streetmural and a minute’s silence observed in recognition of other fallen Ulstermen. Stevie McCrea was laid to rest and another another sad chapter in the history ofUlsterwas written.