Donald McRae was on Wednesday’s OTB AM and spoke about the impact of Gerry Storey on the people of Belfast.
Storey was able to work with both Catholics and Protestants as a boxing trainer during the height of the Troubles, winning the respect of paramilitaries from both sides.
“One of the key moments was in 1972, that’s when things were darkest, that’s the year when most people died, he got a message saying ‘the boys’ on the Shankill Road wanted to see him. The way they said the boys, that meant the big guys.
“So he walked to the Shankill on a Sunday night not quite sure what ‘the boys’ were going to say to him. The minders are waiting for him, they take him up the staircase and when he gets in twelve men are waiting for him.
“Eventually they say ‘we know what you’re doing’ and there’s a pause and he’s thinking maybe this could go one of two ways. But the next sentence was, ‘we like what you’re doing and we want you to continue. Could you actually get your wee boxers from Catholic New Lodge to come fight on the Shankill Road?’ Which is kind of a phenomenal thing,” McRae explained.
Storey showed great bravery when dealing with both sides of the divide and rarely let the situation get him down. However, he did find the time he spent working with prisoners in the Maze Prison difficult.
“He said the mentality of jail was such that it takes over your psychology. His wife said to him for the sake of your family and your own mental health you need to pull back. That was the only time where I think it got a bit much for him", McRae explained.
“He would see these young men and they were all in for life and he would feel what a waste. That was the only time when the sadness got to him because he felt that these men had wasted their lives on a futile cause."
McRae remarked how it was incredible that even though Storey’s family was steeped in republicanism and that he had a nephew in the IRA, the loyalists still accepted him.
“The loyalists still wanted him, he was hand-picked by them,” McRae commented.
Donald McRae’s latest book In Sunshine or in Shadow: How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles is available now and has been described as an “outstanding and important book” by Andy Lee.