The black and white photo is of Billy and others on the back of a lorry trying to rescue Fian Gerard McAuley who was shot dead on 14th August 1969.
The unionist gangs attacked Bombay Street and surrounding streets but unfortunately the IRA wasn't as well armed as they should have been. The leadership of the IRA who were mainly based in BÁC refused to send weapons up even though local volunteers knew there was a lot of tension in that part, and other parts of Béal Feirste.
Although I only vaguely remember the event Billy gained a massive reputation as one of a handful of IRA volunteers going over to the Short Strand to defend the local community when they were under attack from unionist gangs supported by the RUC. Billy was seriously wounded but he and the others repelled the mobs even though they had fewer weapons. When a friend and I visited Billy in Our Lady's Home in Beechmount recently he spoke about those heady days.
When Billy ended up in Crumlin Road gaol-again- in 1971 he and other IRA prisoners embarked on a hunger strike demanding political status. I remember going to protests for them and when I became more aware of politics I heard one of the demands of the IRA during the ceasefire was for prisoners to be granted political status. They did get it but the ceasefire broke down in Leana an Dúin weeks later.
I first met Billy about 2002 when I was introduced to him by Willie John McCorry: they were old friends and comrades. They would speak about their time in prison in the 40s and although times were hard they would laugh about some of the characters they knew from those days.
I would see Billy a lot over the years and he would always encourage me and others to 'keep the flame lit'. Despite his age he was very much tuned into the politics of the day and like many of us was dismayed at the direction others were going in. I'd never claim to know Billy very well so there will be others who will tell of how he felt.
The last time I saw him was a few weeks ago at the funeral of his good friend John Regan. Francie McGuigan called me over telling me Billy was in his car. His eyesight was fading but when Francie told him it was me he took my hand and asked how I was. I told him I was doing well but how was he. He just smiled so I said slán and although it was obvious he wasn't well I just thought to myself that he had packed a lot into his 98 years. Billy was very well thought of by many Irish republicans here and abroad. He will be sadly missed.