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"We had to get both sides together" | Gerry Storey on training inmates in The Maze

Kenneth Fox
Kenneth Fox

02:57 4 Sep 2019

Donald McRae's latest book, 'In Sunshine or in Shadow,' chronicles Belfast boxing's battle against atrocities and sectarian tensions to flourish during The Troubles.

Former World Champion Andy Lee travelled to the Holy Family gym in Belfast to meet Donald and Gerry Storey - one of the book's leading protagonists.

Throughout the conflict, Catholics and Protestants trained and fought side by side at the Holy Family gym under Gerry’s watchful eye.

The sport maintained a strange type of immunity, as boxers fought on cards with a mix of fighters from both sides of the divide in front of massive crowds without encountering any problems.

In one anecdote in the book, a policeman commented that evenings when boxing shows were on were their quietest nights on the beat.

Boxing on the inside

During their sit down, Gerry told Andy how he found himself running a boxing programme in The Maze Prison:

“How the Maze came about actually would have been with the education authorities.

“They came about and told me that they had a problem and the problem was that they were requested from the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) UDA (Ulster Defence Association) the loyalist side of the paramilitaries and from the leg of the provincial IRA (Irish Republican Army).

“He said he had a strange request coming from the governor, that the prisoners on both sides had recommended me to come in and train them if I would,” Gerry told Off The Ball.

“The only thing that I was thinking about and concerned about was why me and why the cages, just after the hunger strike? It was just finished for a couple of weeks.

“So I went up to the cages and went in and we had a talk, say with the likes of the Loyalist end of it with was Gusty Spence, Bobby Rodgers and the governor of the prison,” he added.

“When Bobby and Gusty came down they didn’t want the governor included. They didn’t want him in the cages they wanted me.

“Whenever I spoke to them, I had to repeat everything back to the governor. I was the translator and when he told me to speak back to them they weren’t recognising him at all.

After that meeting, Gerry was charged with putting a boxing programme in place.

He won favour with the inmates by convincing the police authorities to allow him to bring in a colour TV to show fight videos (and even the odd Rocky film).

In time, Nationalist and Loyalist prisoners began to smuggle gear back and forth to be used during their sessions with Gerry.

When asked by Andy if he felt apprehensive about teaching these sessions he replied:

“I also knew what I was doing and I didn’t care it was all the same to me [...] I was interested in boxing. I was interested in Belfast and the people and where they were going through and they were going through enough. We had to get both sides together.”



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