Wednesday, December 31, 2014

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Kev Crossan

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.

10 comments :

marty said...

I,m afraid to say a cara that we are coming rapidly to an age when you will finding yourself writing obits more often than you would like,

AM said...

That is true Marty so hopefully neither you nor me feature in the TPQ obituary section at the end of next year!!

We go through life and so many people touch us in a positive way. I try to create a small tribute that we can remember them through

Simon said...

I am saddened to read the end of year obituaries. One thing that struck me is that the generation who fought during the Troubles will be going soon in greater numbers due to age and perhaps exacerbated by years in prison.

I see the much documented care the RUC, British Army, etc get for rehabilitation after the Troubles and other conflicts. No-one can argue against that. Care for Post-traumatic stress syndrome or other disabilities can prevent and save future costs for the NHS and other parts of the health and welfare system. On a human level it seems appropriate to mitigate people's suffering.

However, Loyalists and Republicans have also seen, done and were victims of things that have led to diagnoses like post traumatic stress etc. Some haven't even been diagnosed. There is less money going towards their problems and although they were illegal groups the humane response and the utilitarian response would be to deliver greater care for those people.

I apologise sincerely as I suspect none of the people in the obituaries had PTSD however the obituaries themselves made me think so I thought it appropriate to comment.

Old Republicans are being rejected and vilified by society. Against the spirit of the GFA more are being arrested for pre-1998 offences.

The nationalist community don't seem as intetested in their welfare and even Republicans who are actively involved in Sinn Fein are neglected. None are receiving the resources that their old enemies are receiving whether in care or compensation terms.

I am not arguing against the authorities being cared for but would suggest all combatants coming out of conflict will, to differing extents, have horrific memories, experiences and the problems stemming from that.

People should care for the people who sacrificed a part of themselves during the conflict.

I suppose in any war the victor's side will get preferential treatment. However, Loyalists are ignored also despite the collusion, agents etc. That is perhaps part of the plan to paint it as a purely sectarian conflict, to lump both Republicans and Loyaists together. To have the official government forces on a pedestal.

I suppose people will say non-combatant victims aren't even getting the proper care and support. I agree but there are people lobbying for that. The delivery of fair treatment for all victims is stymied by the neverending argument against the current definition of a 'victim'. Some combatants and most non-combatants are not getting care.

It saddens me to think of all these people passing and soon to pass being virtually ignored by wider society.

The mind boggles at the possible outcome if after 1969 it was a one sided battle. Some of these people dying today stayed that outcome. Others were uninvolved.

Better having no violence at all of course. You only have to look at reports on the released government papers from 1984 and realise the Unionist politicians were calling for things like air strikes on the south. That's the mentally Nationalists were up against and who are now content to have a TV and a car. Terence O'Neill was right in the end. But does that mean Republicanism was wrong?

The official answer will be in who gets prosecuted and who gets cared for in the future. Will it be the paras from Ballymurphy and the bogside or the ones who killed with plastic bullets or those who carried out extra-judicial killings on the part of the state.

Or is history being written by the victors?

AM said...

From Martin Galvin

I came to know Kevin as one of the Irish political deportees. They were a group of ex-POWs most of whom married Americans and settled happily in the US in the days when it was easy to come on a holiday visa and stay on.

At some point a number of them found themselves in deportation proceedings. The British wanted to enlist America in criminalizing former political prisoners. These men would normally have been entitled to a green card as the spouse of an American citizen but the British pushed to get them deported as criminals.

In Kevin's case he was recognized with status in Long Kesh but the British refused to admit or acknowledge it in writing.
People rallied around them, got Congressional hearings and filled the courts.A television documentary was done about them.

In one of the cases (Brian Pearson's ) a Federal Immigration Judge formally ruled that the IRA was engaged in a legitimate political struggle and so he could not be denied a Green Card as a criminal because of a sentence in Long Kesh.The Brits were not pleased.

Finally under pressure a number of the cases were settled in 1997 by the Clinton administration and Attorney General Janet Reno. Kevin and a number of others got deferred action meaning the Feds would not proceed to deport them.
Often however they were hassled with delays in work authorization, or advance parole to travel or just given a hard time by the feds.

We had hoped the settlement would open the door for others but that has not happened as you know Anthony.

Many of the observations you wrote about Kevin I recognized immediately. He unfortunately did not stay away from cigarettes for running and his heavy smoking is believed to be the cause of his illness.

He was quiet but sociable , good craic and good company with deep feelings about getting the Brits out.

Joyce plans to bring his ashes back to Belfast for burial in the family plot in Milltown and will try to get the word out to as many of his friends as possible when a date is set.

Andy said...

That is a good write up about Kevin Mackers.when you mentioned him giving up the cigs and running, i rememer him running around cage 10 those long skinny legs lol always had a chat with him between the wires.RIP KEVIN mo chara

Henry JoY said...

Condolences to all that have experienced loss over the holiday period.

Simon says "...Unionist politicians were calling for things like air strikes on the south. That's the mentally Nationalists were up against and who are now content to have a TV and a car. Terence O'Neill was right in the end. But does that mean Republicanism was wrong?"

In my opinion Simon, asking what was the function of Republicanism throughout the period and how useful was it are better questions to begin with rather than right/wrong moralistic evaluations. Republicanism was useful in what way? Useful to what end and to whom?

When drilled down in that way I regret you'll find but another 'dry well'.

You also pose good questions as to how Republicanism as a community have tended to their 'wounded'.

Simon said...

Henry Joy, I am only a little surprised anyone made it to the end of my comment. Long posts are often particularly off-putting particularly when written at 3am on New Year's Day.

I feel that alternative possible histories are useless except in the fiction genre of reading and then only for entertainment's sake.

For example people often have serious discussions based on theories like if the Troubles ended sooner would we be in a better place? I find such discussions unnecessary and perhaps useless as no-one knows what would have happened if either there was no conflict or if it ended sooner. No use even guessing. Many say we would have arrived at the same place sooner but I say the outcome may have been worse rather than better in an alternative history. Many say the IRA worsened the chances for a United Ireland. I know where they got that idea from. However, there could have been any number of possible alternatives.

So I am a little disappointed when at 3am last night I brought up the possibility that the IRA may have prevented a one-sided mass slaughter. Using the story of air strikes to support my position was poor. However, I stand by the point I was trying to tease out which was that alternative possible histories are useless as theories. Much like saying a 2-0 football defeat "could have been a draw."

Could have but wasn't.

We only have reality to base our history on and even that can be contentious. No use looking for what if's. 'Whatifery' is more useless than 'whataboutery'. At least the latter is based on some fact.

What we can be sure of is the present and many combatants and non-combatants are not getting any support. Even from the people they used to get support from.

Tain Bo said...

Respectful and dignified tributes of lives passing remembered for the life lived.

Tain Bo said...

Henry

nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit.

AM said...

Just got this from Facebook:

To all friends and comrades of the Late Kevin Crossan, Kev's funeral mass will be at 12:00 in st Theresa's church on the Glen road, on Saturday, RIP Kev mo chara