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Martin McGuinness: a hero to remember

He was born in 1950 in the city of Derry and he was a teenager who saw for himself the viciously violent response of the Northern Ireland state to civil rights marchers.


Sean Sheehan


At that time the IRA was not a force to be reckoned with in any part of Ireland.

McGuinness was in his early twenties when the British Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed civilians on Bloody Sunday in Derry, killing thirteen of them.

Within a very short time, the Provisional IRA in the city had more new recruits than it could handle. McGuinness rose quickly through its ranks but, as Gerry Adams said, he “never went to war. The war came to him. It came to his streets, it came to his city, it came to his community.” The years that followed were bloody ones and a dirty war unfolded. One of the many memorable images in this book shows McGuinness remonstrating with a police officer at the funeral of an IRA man who had been killed in a gun battle with undercover soldiers. McGuinness is telling the policeman to remove his officers from the church grounds.

There are many photos in the book like this one, showing McGuinness protesting, speaking at public rallies, carrying coffins and attending more funerals than anyone would wish to see.

Photo by Paul Mcerlane/AP/REX/Shutterstock (7294026a)

Along with Gerry Adams, McGuinness worked tirelessly to nudge the IRA towards a ceasefire and one was eventually declared in 1994.

The following year he is seen sitting alongside Jeremy Corbyn in London, a loyal supporter (along with Ken Livingstone) in the British Labour Party of Sinn Féin’s policy.

Progress is slow but the historic Good Friday Agreement is reached in 1998. The same year sees McGuinness photographed with children at Garvaghy Road in Portadown. The bigoted Orange Order insisted on marching through a republican area of the city and when their march is banned violence erupts. Sectarian attacks on vulnerable Catholic families follow and three children die when their home is petrol bombed.

As Deputy First Minister in a new power-sharing government, McGuinness showed a Mandela-like ability to forgive those who would gladly have wished him dead. T

here is a telling photograph of himself and the new First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster (whose DUP party are currently keeping the Tories in power), waiting for the arrival of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón. He is travelling on a fact-finding mission to help his government negotiate a ceasefire with FARC. McGuinness looks straight at the camera in a positive pose; Foster has her arms crossed and her head down.

Funeral of IRA man Henry Hogan at Dunloy, Co. Antrim. Pictures of Cortege etc. Pacemaker Press Intl. 24/2/84

Martin McGuinness walked the walk from war to peace and, compared to the shabby and self-interested politicians he had the grace to deal decently with over recent years, he emerges as an individual deserving of huge respect and admiration.

He would have made a fine President of Ireland when he stood for that post in 2011 and it is to the shame of Irish voters in the Republic of Ireland that he was not elected.

“Martin McGuinness: a life remembered”,  by Henry McDonald, is published by Blackstaff Press.

(Photos provided by the publisher)

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