Padraic Mac Coitir remembers a friend and comrade who died in April.
I spoke with Skin's older brother, Eddie, that morning and to be honest there was very little I could say. I've known Eddie a long time but didn't get to know Skin until I met him in Long Kesh after he was sentenced. Although he was a lot younger than me we hit it off and got on very well.
Skin was captured in the early 1990's with two others. He was shot in the leg and even as he lay in agony he didn't show any fear as the peelers manhandled him. He was sentenced to 24 years but it didn't faze him at all. Once down in the Blocks he was determined to strengthen his leg and this he done. He ended up very fit and despite his injury he played soccer - and he was very good.
About 1994 he had to go to the City hospital for treatment and once there he saw an opportunity to escape. When he was back in the Block he spoke with some members of the camp staff and between them a plan was hatched. Next time he was at the hospital he told the screws guarding him he needed to go to the toilet. He was a character and he built up a good rapport with some of the screws, one of whom was a wee woman who he always slagged. So out the window he went and ran towards the Lisburn Road in pyjamas and slippers. The alarm went up but he continued to run until a civilian grabbed him. The peelers then came and took him back to the hospital. The woman screw was nearly crying because she probably thought her cushy job was in jeopardy and when she saw Skin she said 'Michael you're a wee blurt for running off'. He just laughed at her. When he got back to the Block he was obviously wrecked but within days he put it behind him and got on with his time.
When he was released in 1999 I was asked to speak at a function held for him. The main hall in the club in Leana an Dúin was packed and it was great to see a lot of lads who were in gaol with Skin. I got a cheap pair of slippers and pyjamas and had them hidden until I called Skin up to the stage and after welcoming him home and talking about how great a fella he was I produced the slippers and pyjamas. I said we got them out of the forensics lab before the Ra blew it up saying they were on Skin when captured escaping. You couldn't embarrass Skin but he took one of the redners I take...
Over the years I'd see him regularly and we'd often talk about politics. Like many others I know he wasn't happy with the situation we have found ourselves in.
Skin was a fella who always had a smile on his face whether working or just bumping into people. It's sad that he was feeling so down and even though we noticed it there was very little we could do except speak with him.
I could write a lot more about how too many people feel after giving years to a cause they believed strongly in only to feel badly let down.
I'm sure I can speak for his many friends and comrades when we send our condolences to his wife, children, mother, sisters, brothers and nieces and nephews. Another one of the good guys has gone.