The summer of '76 was a scorcher, one of the best in living memory. So warm was it that the IRA promised the RUC a 'long hot summer.' It also saw the arrival in prison of Kevin Crossan who died last week in the USA, to where he had emigrated after his release.
When I arrived in Cage 3 Long Kesh Kevin was there along with his co accused Jim Shortt, having been charged with causing the death of Andersonstown woman Martha Crawford in 1973, shot dead during an IRA gun battle with the British Army in Rosnareeen Avenue. That summer also saw two men from the Short Strand come into prison for a similar type of charge dating back to the same year. It made us suspect that a trend might be starting. By the following year quite a few people were coming into the jails for activities that occurred in the early 1970s. It looked as if the Brits were clearing the books, their task made easier by easy RUC access to torture techniques.
Kev hailed initially from Knockdhu Park in Andersonstown and joined the IRA in the early 70s. A close friend and comrade of his from the 1970s who had stayed in touch with him right up to the end described him as ‘a quiet type but well liked.’ I found him quiet but never aloof. He was always sociable. With an unkempt appearance, in part occasioned by his favourite attire, faded denim, I invariably bantered him about resembling Shaggy the Scooby Doo character. That summer we spent many hours walking the yard absorbing the sweltering heat, indifferent to the threat from ultra violet rays that would come to concern a more health conscious later generation.
Some things stand out about people, quirks or habits, by which we tend to remember them from jail. A few cases in point: Seamy Martin was a voracious reader, Pat Livingstone worshipped Celtic, Marty Kavanagh suffered rather that supported West Bromwich Albion, John Anthony McCooey walked the yard in shorts in the middle of winter, Eddie Harkin was a great snooker player, Artie Palmer could thread a soccer pass with laser-like precision. There were hundreds of others we could as easily choose from. My abiding memory of Kev is that he adored Park Drive cigarettes. I loved them too. My Da had smoked Woodbine but while strong they never had the same kick for me nor caught the back of my throat in the way that Park Drive could. In Cage 3 or later in Cage 10 – where Kev did the bulk of his life sentence - when the parcels arrived and the Park Drive were there, the two of us, if we had went without for a hour too long, must have seemed like addicts getting their nicotine fix. Kev would rub his hands with glee and praise the arrival of ‘the Parkies’. After I ended up in the H Blocks I met somebody from the cages and asked if Kevin was still smoking the Parkies: no, was the response, he had given them up and had started the running. Now that was real abstinence.
In the almost 37 years since I departed the Cages I never set eyes on Kevin again. All I heard was that he had started writing to an American woman while inside and moved to the States with her not long after he got out. I later heard he had tried his hand at running a bar. He seemed fortunate enough to beat the FBI snoop swoop that caught so many former republican prisoners in their net, leading to prolonged court cases and endless stress for the settled men and their new families.
Brian McReynolds and Billy Clinton, both of my co accused, spent more than a decade with him and got too know him infinitely better than I ever did. But for the short time I spent in Kev's company, sharing Park Drive with him or eating the Belfast baps that unfailingly arrived in his parcels, they are the little things that bring a smile to puncture the sadness occasioned by news of another good man down.