Read an Excerpt
None Shall Divide Us
To Some He is a Hero. The IRA Want Him Dead. This is the True Story of the Artist Who was Ireland's Most Notorious Assassin ...
By Michael Stone
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2004 Michael Stone/Karen McManus
All rights reserved.
MARY AND CYRIL
I CAME INTO THE WORLD ON 2 APRIL 1955 IN LORDSWOOD HOSPITAL, HARBORNE, BIRMINGHAM, THE FIRST-BORN CHILD OF MARY BRIDGET AND CYRIL STONE. I am a British citizen and proud to be one. I have always cherished my nationality. My family history is complex, but it forms the backbone of my identity. I have two sets of parents: my biological mother and father, Mary Bridget O'Sullivan and her husband Cyril Alfred Stone, and the parents who raised me as their own, Margaret and John Gregg.
I know very little about my biological mother. Mary Bridget O'Sullivan is an Irish name but I do not know if she was an Irish citizen. All I do know is that she spoke with a strong English accent. Mary Bridget was the eldest child in a very large family. Her own mother died when she was very young and she was charged with raising her younger brothers and sisters. My biological father was born in the United Kingdom but spoke with an accent straight from the Shankill Road. He lived in England all his life yet his accent was as strong as if he lived in the heart of West Belfast.
Mary Bridget and Cyril met in the UK and were married at Caxton Hall registry office, London, in 1953. She was just eighteen and he just twenty-one when they exchanged vows. The union lasted only two years, enough time for Mary Bridget to decide motherhood and marriage weren't for her. She walked out on her husband and new baby in September 1955, when I was just five months old. Mary Bridget never again saw the baby boy she left in Cyril's arms. A restless Jack the Lad, Cyril took just minutes to plan his next move: the boat to Belfast to his only sister, Margaret, and her new husband, John, who lived in Ballyhalbert, on the shores of Belfast Lough. He handed his son into the care of the young couple, who raised me as their own, turned on his heels and joined the Merchant Navy.
Margaret and John are the only parents I have ever known. Margaret was the best mother a young boy could wish for. She died in 2001 from heart complications. My father John spent his final years in a nursing home surrounded by ladies who want to marry him. He died in April 2003.
I have just the one photograph of Cyril and Mary Bridget together. It is a symbol of who I am and a poignant reminder that two people brought me into the world but played no part in my upbringing. Yet I am still drawn to them like a nail to a magnet. I am curious about Mary Bridget. I want to know what went on in 1955 when she called time on our little family. The photograph shows a beautiful young girl with dark curls framing her delicate features and wearing smart clothes. She is linking arms with a swarthy man in an overcoat. They look happy. Both are smiling at the camera but I wonder what was going on beneath the surface. When they met, Cyril was a member of the Forces, a full-time reservist in the RAF. By the time I was born, he was driving lorries for a chemical firm, a job which took him all over the UK.
My mother had sparse details about their relationship. She told me Cyril was quick-tempered and possessive and Mary Bridget liked her freedom. It was a stormy marriage and destined to fail. Just a few years before my mother died she told me she met Mary Bridget once. Mum described her as a beautiful and gentle girl who was like a little bird – she just wanted to fly away. That is the memory I carry of the woman who brought me into the world: a little bird who saw her chance of freedom and grabbed it.
I have searched all my adult life for Mary Bridget O'Sullivan, but she has vanished off the face of the earth. I have tried everywhere to find her. Even the Red Cross couldn't help me. Nothing exists after 1955, when my birth was registered. I do regret that I never got to meet Mary Bridget and she knows nothing about the man I became. I do not know what happened to her. She could be dead, she could have remarried or she could have emigrated to America or Australia. I still would like to see her and ask her about her life. I would like to tell her about my own life and would be happier doing this now my own mother is dead. I wouldn't feel that I was betraying my own mother by speaking to Mary Bridget.
My entry into the world was rarely talked about at home. My mother resented Mary Bridget for abandoning her baby and walking out on her family. Mum was old-fashioned. She believed a woman's place was with her children and in the home. From a very young age I was aware that I had a different surname from my brother and sisters, but there was no question of Mum allowing me to change my name from Stone to Gregg. I would ask tentative questions about why my name was different, but the only answer I got was: 'Let sleeping dogs lie.' I never probed. I didn't want to seem ungrateful or unfaithful because I loved her.
My mother was proud of her maiden name and she constantly said to me, 'Be proud of your name because your married parents gave it to you.'
I am not interested in Mary Bridget's religion, and religious persuasion is not an issue for me. She may have been a Roman Catholic or she may not have been. It doesn't matter. Mary Bridget gave birth to me but she didn't bring me up. Margaret Gregg raised me as her son and within days of my arrival in Northern Ireland had me baptised into the Anglican faith.
When I first put those tentative questions about my biological father, Mum told me that he 'lived far away'. I know she did that to protect me and to make it sound like I hadn't been dumped as a newborn child. Cyril Stone was my mother's only brother and he kept in constant contact over the years, making regular enquiries about his first-born's development. Years later, when I was a grown man, I discovered my mother even sent the odd school photograph to Cyril, who was now living in Birmingham, and he kept all those pictures and placed them side by side with photos of his second family.
I was eleven when my mother decided it was time I knew about my background. She had the perfect opportunity. I was enrolling at secondary school and she feared that if I didn't know the facts I would be bullied and ridiculed in the playground. My elder sisters, Rosemary and Colleen, and elder brother, John, were already pupils there. Just days before I was due to enrol I was handed an old shoebox. Inside there was a bundle of letters and telegrams. They were all addressed to me, had postmarks stretching over an eleven-year period and were stamped with various exotic addresses such as 'Gibraltar Port'. At first I was bewildered. My mother said one thing: 'These letters are from Cyril Stone, who is your father. He is an officer in the Merchant Navy.' The letters are dog-eared and torn around the folds. It proved to me that Cyril Alfred Stone felt something in his heart for the little boy he handed into the care of his sister in the autumn of 1955.
I met Cyril Stone just the once, when I was already a father myself. It was a very strange experience but also a moving one. The meeting answered an unasked question: 'What am I missing out on?' When I met Cyril I realised, with a great sense of relief, that I was missing out on absolutely nothing. I was twenty-eight and it was 1983, the year my grandmother died. Margaret Stone had kept a diary given to me by my mother on the day of my grandmother's funeral. She told me to read it because there are 'things in it you will want to read'. Inside was an address and telephone number for Cyril. He was still living in the Midlands. I rang the number and when he answered I was surprised at the strength of his Belfast accent. I can still hear the conversation we had. I said his name and he answered with, 'Is that you, Michael?'
I told him I was coming to England to see him. He didn't resist, put me off, hang up or refuse to see me. I booked a hotel and my ferry ticket and made my journey to Birmingham. I found his home and with a shaky hand rang the doorbell. He answered the door and there we were – two Stones looking at each other on his doorstep. It was a warm, friendly meeting and I am glad I met him, but I knew he would never take the place of John Gregg, who raised me. Cyril had remarried and had two other children, twins Tracey and Terence. Terence is now a Buddhist monk living in south-east Asia. The whole family welcomed me with open arms. I noticed my school photos sitting alongside pictures of his new family. I was happy to leave Cyril's home and go back to Belfast to the only mother and father I have ever known and loved. The only missing piece in the jigsaw of my early life was Mary Bridget O'Sullivan and I accepted, with great sadness, that I would probably never find her.CHAPTER 2
A BOY FROM THE BRANIEL
MY EARLY YEARS WERE SPENT IN BALLYHALBERT, ON THE SHORES OF BELFAST LOUGH. In the late 1950s the village was an old-fashioned place with just a handful of houses, the local shops and church, but it had a strong sense of community and family. Everyone knew everyone else and it was a friendly and safe environment in which to bring up children. I remember clearly the walks with my mother along the shore and the gulls which swooped close to our heads in their search for scraps of food. I would grab her hand but was fascinated by their fearless dives.
I was just four when the family moved to the Braniel estate, a new housing complex on the eastern edge of Belfast. More than a thousand new homes were built, making it the biggest development of its kind in Northern Ireland. My mother and father were pleased to get a house at 47 Ravenswood Park. It had a small garden at the back and front, it had a bathroom and my father was near the shipyard where he worked. We were an ordinary, working-class Protestant family, no different from the families that surrounded us. It was 1959, and fathers went out to work while mothers stayed at home with the children. Dad's job as a steelworker took him out of the house from early morning to dinnertime. Mum never left the house. She had her hands full with two sons and four daughters. Home life was simple. Money was tight because there was just the one wage coming in, but we were happy.
In our home special pictures adorned the walls. Those images celebrated our culture and our loyalty to the young Queen Elizabeth II, our Protestant faith and my family's heritage; a heritage handed down from my grandfather and great-grandfather.
My grandfather was called Cyril Stone and he served in the Royal Corps of Signals. I find it ironic that the two corporals who were murdered at the funeral of Kevin Brady, and one of the men I killed at Milltown, were attached to the Royal Corps of Signals. My great-grandfather was Thomas Stone, an engineer and explorer. He was a fascinating character and spent many years in South Africa laying the railway along the Gold Coast. A photograph of Thomas Stone taken while he was in South Africa as an employee of the British government shows him holding Jacko, his pet baboon. This picture took pride of place in the living room and I was fascinated by the stories my mother would tell about Jacko.
After Thomas Stone finished working abroad he returned to England with his German wife Augusta, Jacko and two live alligators. He disembarked from the boat with the two alligators on leads and Jacko by the hand. The newspaper cuttings from 1936 show him, his massive collection of tribal war spears and his prized juju. Jacko is sitting on his knee. The baboon lived as an additional member of the family. When I was growing up my mother told me stories about life with her grandparents. Jacko was house-trained and lived indoors. He slept indoors and ate with the family. My mother, who paid regular visits to her grandparents as a little girl, said she was terrified of Jacko because he was so big. Eventually my great-grandfather had to kill him, after coming home from work to find his wife cowering in the corner of the kitchen, being attacked by Jacko, who was now fully grown. My great-grandfather and the baboon fought hand to hand: Jacko was strangled and my great-grandfather was covered in bites. The alligators are now in the Museum of Birmingham.
Also on the wall of our home was a framed parchment dated 28 September 1912 which was signed by James 'Soldier' Moore, my other great-grandfather. He served with the Royal Irish Fusiliers. 'Soldier' Moore had put his signature, in his own blood, to a solemn covenant to resist British Home Rule for Ireland. My mother was very proud of that parchment. My family were good, working-class Loyalists who were loyal to the Crown, loyal to their Queen, loyal to their identity and loyal to their British nationality.
As well as my elder brother and two elder sisters, I have two sisters who are younger than me, Sharon and Shirley. One of the first rules of our family, taught to each of us in turn by my mother, was 'Family Comes First'. Years later, when I joined the UDA, I broke that golden family rule. I didn't put my family first and my illegal paramilitary activities became the focus of my entire life. My brother was shy and scholarly as a boy. John loved studying and is now a master draughtsman. He is a quiet family man living in the UK and, although he has never passed judgement on my past life, he often says he doesn't understand how and why I got involved.
As a teenager John was a member of a rock group called Richmond Hill. He was the lead singer of the five-piece group and they played support to the Irish rock acts Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher and Horslips. Although he was a quiet lad he had an amazing Joe Cocker-type voice and the band regularly gigged at Dublin's Baggot Inn. I used to scam my way on to their van whenever I got the chance.
Nowadays my sister Rosemary is a florist, while Colleen is a full-time wife and mother, Sharon an auxiliary nurse and Shirley a care attendant. Although the tables are turned and they now look after me, when we were young I took it upon myself to look after them and protect them from young lads on our estate.
My father worked long hours to keep the family together. As a steelworker at the Harland & Wolff shipyard, he had followed in his own father's footsteps. He was proud to be working class. He was a union man all his life and in his younger days represented boilermen, first as a convenor and then as a shop steward. My mother never left the family home for thirteen years and I mean just that: she never stepped beyond the front door. She didn't even go to the shops herself. Each of us, me included, did the shopping for her on our designated days. Her day, for all those thirteen years, was getting my father to work, getting us ready for school, cleaning, washing, cooking, getting us ready for bed, getting dinner ready for Dad and falling into bed herself. Her day was multiple trips from kitchen to backyard and backyard to kitchen. I don't think she really sat down during all that time. My parents had a long and loving marriage until death separated them in 2001. My lasting memory of the two of them together is Dad buying Mum a new winter coat and taking her into the city for a meal.
My school years – I went to a primary school which was right opposite my home – were not the happiest of my life. I preferred schoolyard games to sitting behind a desk and doing my lessons. It was at primary school that I got the nickname Flint, and it stayed with me until I became a Loyalist volunteer in my teens.
One teacher ensured I would leave school with little education and a dislike bordering on hatred for teachers and educators. Bordering the Braniel estate was a middle-class estate called Glenview and children from there also attended Braniel Primary. This teacher was a snob: he held a senior position of responsibility but believed working-class kids had no right to education. He ran his school with an iron fist.
I had one encounter with this teacher that shaped the rest of my school life. When I was eight he slapped me in the face, causing my nose to bleed profusely. He beat me because I took a fit of the giggles in the playground when we were lining up to go back into class. I have never forgotten or forgiven the incident. After lunch the bell would ring to tell us it was time for lessons to begin. He had a ritual: you lined up in pairs, took the hand of the boy or girl standing beside you and filed into your classroom. I had a friend called Thomas 'Daz' Dizell. The bell rang and we lined up. I see this teacher striding up and down the lines of children and I take Daz's hand. He laughs, pulls his hand away and sticks his tongue out at me. I start to laugh and the teacher spots us. He walks over to where we are standing and tells us to wait outside his classroom. I am scared because he has a reputation and has been known to beat boys.
Excerpted from None Shall Divide Us by Michael Stone. Copyright © 2004 Michael Stone/Karen McManus. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.