Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Farewell to gutsy Nancey, too ...

For entirely different reasons I've been saddened by the deaths this week of Michael Winner and Inez McCormick. Winner because I enjoyed his roguish writings. And Inez because she was a good and lovely woman.

Many years ago, as a rookie journalist, I wrote a piece about her which at one point misquoted her and made her look stupid. Trembling with shame and some fear, I rang to apologise. "Ach, for goodness sake," she laughed, "it's not the end of the world." This sort of thing we hardened old hacks remember down the years. It taught me to be more careful of my facts. But also to respect a woman who despite her achievements didn't take herself too seriously.

Another sad death this week, was that of the indomitable Nancey Gracey, founder of Families Against Intimidation and Terror, one of the earliest and bravest groups to challenge paramilitary savagery.

Along with the heroic Henry Robinson, Nancey, 5ft-nothing and a widowed grandmother, took on the terror chiefs after her son was shot in what we used to call a 'punishment' attack.

His 'crime'? He'd defended his pregnant sister after she was manhandled by an IRA man on a bus.

"Nobody shoots a son of mine," said Nancey. And for years her distinctive rasping voice was just that - a voice for the voiceless. She spoke out against paramilitaries on all sides and helped countless victims flee their brutality and their death threats.

I always believe that when future generations look back at the monstrous torture of those so-called punishment squads they'll ask: "And what did decent people do when all this was going on?"

Nancey Gracey did more than most. She was gutsy and defiant and she took on the big men and made them look the pathetic cowards that they were/are.

May she rest in peace.

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