On Saturday evening our group attended the unveiling of a new mural dedicated to our friend and comrade Stevie McCrea, fondly known as “X-ray”.
The image replaced an old mural dedicated to Stevie located at the junction of Hopewell Crescent and Hopewell Avenue, Lower Shankill.
The William Strain Memorial Flute Band played a set before speeches explaining the origin of the mural and Stevie’s story. A booklet originally released at the time of Stevie’s murder was also available to the people in attendance.
29 years ago 16th February 1989 Stephen had just finished his last day of work at the Belfast enterprise zone on the “work out” ACE scheme.
Stevie, who was sent to Long Kesh on Halloween Night in 1972 went on to spend the next fifteen years of his young life in those bleak, soul-destroying cages and was not re-involved in any paramilitary activities upon realease. It is well known that there was a strict policy that ‘Lifers’ are not to be involved in current activities. Stevie, while in prison was involved in a marathon escape bid from Long Kesh Camp. At the time, he was being held in 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. Stevie realised that the attending Prison Officers were not monitoring the van and making a spontaneous decision, seized the moment and dived underneath the van and climbed onto the axle stand. During the head count that evening one of his comrades done the ‘Colditz Shuffle’ and was counted twice covering for him. Stevie endured two long and freezing days and nights lying under the ‘x-ray’ van wearing only a thin denim jacket and jeans. On the third evening he managed to climb inside the van itself and conceal himself in a cupboard. When leaving the camp the following day it successfully got through the security checkpoint at the Prison Officer’s gate but Stevie was discovered by a young Squaddie at the main gate. He 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.
Stevie, in his short period of freedom posed no threat to anyone and sought to re build his life settling down and enjoying the remainder of his life in peace.
On that day after cashing his last pay cheque, he and several of his work colleagues went for a lunch-time drink in the local Orange Cross Club. The drink, was to bid their friend farewell after working together for the past year.
At 1.15 p.m the security buzzer sounded. As the door opened, three IPLO gunmen brushed inside and ordered the men in the room to stand at the bar. In an effort to get people to let their guard down during those murderous days, they pretended it was a robbery. When everyone lined up as instructed the gunmen opened fire indiscriminately. Stevie, in this moment of chaos, thought only of his friends safety. One friend 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 later Stevie passed away at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. Upon realising they had murdered a former Loyalist prisoner the IPLO issued a gloating statement in which they claimed to have singled Stevie out for attack, a blatant lie. The truth is that Stevie had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and it was nothing but blatant sectarianism.
We are free to express ourselves.
We are free of oppression.
We are free of fear.
We all owe our freedom to them.
Honour – Service – Sacrifice
Lamh Derg Abu
Lest we forget