He Was A Friend Of Mine.
I remember Freddie standing in the dock of the Crumlin Road number 1 court. There was uproar in the court when the sentences got handed down. I was with the wives and families of the 6 men as they were given sentences of 7 years, 5 years and other periods of imprisonment. Not one of them had in trouble with the law before the Troubles broke out.
But Freddie and thousands of others felt in these times sometime had to be done. Freddie reacted to his sentence as I would have expected. A wry smile on the face. Freddie had a face that truly said that butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Having met thousands of prisoners during my stays in the Crum and the Kesh Freddie was one of those that always puzzled me. The young turks could easily use violence when needed but others like Freddie had a quietness and gentleness that belied his belief and determination.
Freddie was unassuming but he was easily one of the best artists I have ever seen at work. He was a natural. You could ask Freddie to draw something and he would do it from memory in front of while you watched. Many of the wall paintings you see will see in associated photographs of the Kesh compounds will have been done by Freddie. He also had a wonderful dry sense of humour. One time I had seen him before his health went down and we had the usual banter. ‘You’re looking well’ I says to him. ‘What’s your secret?’ “Breathing”, he says back with a smile. He would often walk past my father’s house and I would go out and chat. But the years rolled on and the Donegall Road got longer and longer for him to walk. I seen less of Freddie.
Freddie was one of the Border 6. A group of volunteers caught by the army in South Armagh. Sadly 2 of the other South Belfast men have already gone. The Kesh had its fair share of characters but Freddie along with Tommy and Billy made for fun in the face of adversity. They were 3 characters all right. C Wing in 1974 was loyalist and it was a madhouse. A Belfast version of ‘Stir Crazy’ with more zany characters threw in.
One story about Freddie which borders on the unbelievable concerned his last day in Compound 21. A release date was eagerly awaited but always seemed to take ages to arrive. In the meantime men would give as much stuff as possible to those remaining. I recall seeing Freddie sitting on his bed waiting for the bus to freedom. His room was bare. All his possession in a single brown bag. All the goodbyes were said and promises of writing letters made. Later I was in his hut and he was still there. He had to return from the gate as his release date was a day later. As good friends we done what good friends do. And slagged him all day. Finally he got away with that wee smile on his face. It would be over 10 years before I would see Freddie again. No funeral is a nice occasion but it was good to see friends young and old behind his coffin. It is nearly 40 years since I stood and watched Freddie in the Number 1 court.