Martin McGuinness

When James Martin Pacelli McGuinness was born in 1950, the fatal pathogens of the Northern Uprising were already extant.

History didn’t knock on his door in the Bogside, it kicked it in and wrecked his home.

His community was systemically discriminated against to the extent that nationalist Derry was ruled over by the grim-faced burgomeisters  of Londonderry.

It was minority rule thanks to the local government boundaries.

The gerrymandered rotten borough on the Foyle was the antithesis of democracy.

A point that was conceded by Ian Paisley in a revealing interview with Eamonn Mallie.

The folks on the east side of the river believed that the Taigs of the Bogside had to be kept in their place.

As part of the local kulchurr, the Fenians were annually showered with pennies from the walls of Derry.

When change was peacefully demanded the local state reacted with savage brutality and Martin’s generation snapped.

The anger was genuine and justified.

Petrol bombs were eventually replaced by car bombs.

It was brutal and, tragically, necessary.

Peaceful agitation for Civil Rights had clearly failed in 1969.

Martin McGuinness then made a choice that thousands of his generation opted for.

It wasn’t the only option available, but it was the one he made.

Bloody Sunday in 1972 rather underlined that it wasn’t an entirely illogical choice to make.

By that time he was already the second-in-command of the Provo’s Derry Brigade.

It was time for war.

Today his passing has been marked by some who have pointed to the violence of the army that he was a leading member of.

However, I cannot take lessons in morality from members of a political elite who invented the concentration camp, gassed the Kurds and firebombed the defenceless innocents of Dresden.

What these chaps in their oak panelled clubs seem to forget is this:

You make peace with your enemy, not your friend.

Martin McGuinness was their enemy and a rather proficient one at that.

WestPoint and Sandhurst couldn’t teach what he was born with.

I fully understand that there are people in Britain and the Six Counties who cannot see beyond his military career.

As a young man, he decided to join the IRA.

However, later in life, he decided to end the IRA.

He wasn’t a professionally manufactured politician.

No focus group produced Martin McGuinness.

I remember standing right behind him at Glasnevin cemetery in 1994 as he gave the oration to Óglach Martin “Doco” Doherty.

It wasn’t a scripted polished performance, but it was genuine.

If you had told me then that he would have been one-half of the “Chuckle Brothers” or he would cordially shake hands with the British head of state then I would have scoffed at the notion.

However, that’s what leaders do.

They understand the importance of timing.

What made Martin McGuinness a successful military leader on the streets of Derry also made him a key architect of the Peace Process.

Today in his native Derry, the nationalist-dominated city council share the mayoralty with the unionist minority.

It is self-evident that this is a world away from the sectarian municipality that he was born in.

This morning Donegal woke up to learn that they had lost one of their own.

His mother Peggy from Inis Eoghain gave him a deep love of this county.

He once cheerfully admitted to me that he had a happy addiction to angling.

I know that he treasured a favourite spot here on Abhainn Ghaoth Beara near An Dúcharaidh.

He loved the peace of Donegal, and he generated that precious commodity through his vision and leadership.

In the balance sheet of a life, a lot of people owe a great deal to him.

That reality was rather stunningly made recently on television by Ian Paisley junior.

His words say it better than I ever could:

“I am going to say thank you and I think it is important that we actually do reflect on the fact that we would not be where we are in Northern Ireland in terms of having stability, peace and the opportunity to rebuild our country if it hadn’t been for the work he did put in, especially with my father at the beginning of this long journey.

“I am going to acknowledge the fact that perhaps if we got back to some of that foundation work of building a proper relationship and recognising what partnership actually means then we can get out of the mess we are currently in.”

My thoughts today are with Bernie and the McGuinness family.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Discover Phil’s dramatic play Rebellion