He had been particularly close to his parents and had found his father's death difficult to cope with. Despite being an old dog for the hard road, after the death of his father, he had often said to me he dreaded losing his mother. Over the forty years of our friendship we have conversed about every subject imaginable and death was not excluded from our meanderings.
Maura McCrory was well known for a long history of community activism. Three of her sons had experienced prison during the North's violent political conflict. Alex had been on the blanket protest, arriving on it straight from the streets. An experience that would have drove many others to despair and the conforming blocks. It must have been devastating for his mother given the reports about the deprivation and brutality flowing out of the jail on a daily basis. She remained at his back throughout, organising, lobbying, marching and protesting.
Not just her son's back but also the backs of every blanketman and woman who struggled through those dark and desolate years to subvert Britain's lie that the conflict in the North was nothing other than an aggravated crime wave. The mothers of the Orange State had given birth to a generation determined to overthrow it.
Maura McCrory was there at the moment of creation when the Relatives Action Committee was formed in 1976, three years prior to her son's odyssey through the jails, to highlight the situation in Long Kesh and Armagh Jail, occasioned by the arbitrary withdrawal of political status. She later became a prominent figure in the National H-Block/Armagh committee, braving the gap of danger when H Block campaigners were being targeted by loyalist death squads colluding with the British state. There is an account on TPQ about the impact visiting a dying Mickey Devine had on her.
Her keen interest in class politics was forged from the age of fourteen when she left school to work in the mills of Belfast, where many working class women gained employment and a meager wage, yet one so vital for families trying to keep their heads above the never receding waters of poverty. At her funeral mass the local priest, Paddy McCaffrey, conveyed the grim work-to-live trade off with capital when he said Maura had worked in a:
succession of low-paid jobs to feed her family . . . Often she would speak of the horrendous conditions endured by the women, many of whom worked in their bare feet.
The sense of common cause with other girls and young women induced by such experiences in the workplace would lead her to a natural activist home in the Falls Women Centre which she helped set up "to improve the quality of life for women and their families living in areas of extreme deprivation and those most affected by the conflict." Paying tribute to her the Centre said:
Maura was a mother, a wife, a sister, a community activist, a wise counsel, a champion for women’s rights, a great and true friend to the Falls Women’s Centre and every woman who was fortunate enough to have met her, and above all she was a strong Irish woman.Maura had a massive influence on many of the women who were lucky enough to cross her path. She was a humanitarian with immense empathy for all and in particular the Palestinian people. She was full of fun and mischief. She was unafraid and brave. Her qualities were immeasurable. We will never get to the depths of Maura McCrory. She was a woman who has made her mark on the world. We are thankful for her life.
I first met her at Christmas 1989 while on a parole. I called to her home to greet her and her husband, and still recall the tins of beer I was handed as we sat and chatted. She was keenly interested to hear about her son Alex and how he was coping in the jail. After imprisonment I would see her frequently around West Belfast and sometimes in her own home where I would call in with Alex.
Like him she was a reader and I was pleased to be able to acquire a copy of Michael Farrell's Orange State for her. It could only have been to freshen up. She knew plenty about the Orange State, having grown up in it.
For long she had been a strong Sinn Fein supporter but in later years seemed to have some misgivings about the direction the party was going in. When she died in February her funeral was a republican one well attended by a cross section of the republican constituency, her coffin draped in the Tricolour, she being described as a life long republican. I had known her more as a women's rights activist who had a feminist perspective without being a tub thumper. The republican trappings that adorned her cortege were never to the fore on the occasions I met her. So I was quite surprised to learn that she had been charged with IRA membership - in a way that I was not surprised about her co-accused facing similar charges - of which she was later acquitted. I had never met her through the IRA and in a world where the secret army was never so secret, and the grapevine was always active, few who were members managed to withhold it from others on the same side of the house. She certainly had dealings with the IRA as a member of the Falls Women's Centre to where complaints against IRA volunteers in respect of women were often referred. I recall volunteers being most apprehensive about having to go there. It was a cold house for those facing allegations of maltreating women.
And Maura could be an unyielding woman if she thought she was being fed bull. I found her formidable, and while I liked her she was not someone I would have wanted to appear in front of had I been culpable of some wrongdoing.
When I last saw her she was approaching her seventies but still retained a keen interest in politics, turning up at a public discussion in South Belfast where I shared a panel with Eoin O Broin and Daithi MacMaster debating the contemporary state of republicanism.
More than anything else, whatever else she was or did, I will always remember her as the loving mother of a close friend, whose loss he has not yet come to terms with.
⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.