Wednesday, 22 March 2017 20:13

Martin McGuinness - A Unique & Famous Son Of Ireland

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Martin McGuinness Of Derry's Bogside Joins A Gallery Of Irish People Who Became Internationally Famous As Peace Negotiators In Their Native Land

A number of historic dates are uniquely attributed to Martin McGuiness, a native of The Bogside in Derry City. Born on the 23rd May 1950, he was christened James Martin Pacelli McGuinness. Martin died unexpectedly on the 21st March 2017, at the age of 66.

Delving into his life and times and how he came to be incorporated in our Irish Heritage Gallery of Famous Sons & Daughters of Ireland, is a story now going to print that many people will deem inappropriate for such an online Irish Heritage Gallery.

Living in The Bogside of Derry City, many of its residents in the 1960’s/70’s, turned to their own people for protection against violence and intimidation from foreign sources. Under British rule for almost nine centuries, catholic citizens of Northern Ireland suffered great injustices and oppressions and prosperous employment opportunities for catholics of Co. Derry and throughout the strongholds of Ulster’s six counties, were extremely limited.

In the Republic of Ireland in the primary schools of the 1950’s, our teachers did not provide much geographical education on the quality of life for catholics in Northern Ireland. When Down senior footballers became the first ever county from the six counties in 1960 to win the Sam Maguire Cup, the Island Of Ireland greatly rejoiced.

 As Cork schoolboys we wondered what was so magic about Down winning the All Ireland. It wasn’t the feat itself and the achievement. Down south it was the sight of a Northern Ireland gaelic football team crossing over the Customs Post on their homeward journey to Newry and captain Kevin Mussen, cup held aloft, getting out of the bus at the border and making sporting history. Televisions in Ireland were a rarity in those days and newspapers were the No.1 messengers.

On reflection 57 years down the line, that historic Down victory signified the huge obstacles endured by all teams playing gaelic games in Northern Ireland. Crossing the border meant British Customs and R.U.C. officers carrying out searches of your possessions, your vehicle and your travel intentions.

It was also a period of Irish history when citizens from the Republic Of Ireland crossing the infamous border had to acknowledge that the six counties was indeed on British soil.

Visitors from the Republic saw Union Jack flags waving in the wind from houses and civic buildings and we wondered how intimidating it was to nationalist residents across the six counties. Across the Irish sea in Scotland, Wales and England, no such flags were flown with the same bigotry and meaning.

This was Northern Ireland and the land where Martin McGuinness was bred and born. It had symbolic anti Irish features and living your life as a nationalist citizen created many unwarranted intrusions from police and successive Northern Ireland governments

In 1950, the year Martin was born, the domination of catholics by the authorities was rampant and those fortunate to be born into middle class nationalist families were obscured from the realities of other nationalist families living in regions such as Derry’s Bogside.

The famous song “The Town I Love So Well” penned by another famous Derryman, Phil Coulter, carry the words so aptly composed by Phil, to demonstrate the harsh realities that were everyday obstacles confronting the men, women and children of The Bogside.

The song will be everlasting and throughout the world people identify the song as symbolic of Derry and its people. Martin McGuinness is also symbolic of that same era in Derry’s Bogside.

Martin decided to fight oppression and injustice to his own people and he also knew that the tiny Irish Free State Government could never provide his people with the required arms and army to oust British Rule from Derry. Martin wanted a free and united Ireland and he also wanted the Irish Republican flag to be the flag of Northern Ireland.

The course he took to achieve his nationalist ambition was the same course adopted by thousands of his Derry peers. That course was unlawful in Northern Ireland and importantly also unlawful in the Republic Of Ireland. The Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) were banned from radio and TV interviews and the I.R.A. leaders were constantly on the run. Martin McGuinness was one of those leaders.

The Derry native was many times quizzed and acknowledged that he was a former I.R.A. member. He stated that he left the I.R.A. in 1974. It is claimed he ventured into the Official I.R.A. and was unaware of the organisation split at the December 1969 Army Convention.

He is reputed to have then switched to the Provisional I.R.A. soon after.

By the start of 1972, at the age of 21, he was second-in-command of the I.R.A. in Derry, a position he held at the time of Bloody Sunday. A total of 14 civil rights protesters were killed in Derry City by British soldiers on that eventful occasion.

Around 1994 Sinn Féin leaders were assessing their state of play in their war with the British and Irish Governments. Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams had both been incarcerated in Irish prisons as a consequence of their I.R.A. membership and despite their ambitions for a united 32 county Ireland, they now realised they needed a more pragmatic route.

The sufferings of the nationalist community especially were immense and diminishing further loss of lives became a major priority. The sincerity of their wisdom and intentions was scrutinised night and day and very few in political chambers endorsed their plans.

John Hume, another famous Derryman and SDLP politician, made political history by liasing with McGuinnes and Adams and taking them on their inaugural peace negotiating journies. Hume put his own esteem and proud record on hold and convinced the British power brokers to talk with McGuinness and Adams, whom he deemed were genuinely searching for a peaceful solution.

Working alongside U.S. Special Envoy, George Mitchel, Martin McGuinness was also one of the main architects of the Good Friday Agreement which formally cemented the Northern Ireland Peace process.

From bombs and bullets, Northern Ireland needed a respite, maybe temporary and hopefully permanent. The assembly of men and women who sat down at the Good Friday negotiations included two Prime Ministers, Bertie Aherne and Tony Blair.

The key components were Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, who unlike all other delegates, had the huge task of convincing the I.R.A. Executive Council, that the path they had pursued was worthy of their utmost agreement.

Now 19 years onwards from that historic agreement, Northern Ireland politics is still a snakes and ladders climb between Unionists and Nationalist political parties. The immense difference now in 2017 is that Sinn Féin is inside the corridors of power and most importantly seemed destined for a worthwhile and fruitful journey.

It is also probable that in the near future of Northern Ireland Government, Sinn Féin now appear to have their groundwork done to occupy the masters seat at Stormont.

Martin was an Irish Republican and Sinn Féin politician and Deputy First Minister Of Northern Ireland from May 2007 to January 2017. He was also was the MP for Mid Ulster from 1997 until his resignation in 2013.

 Similar to all Sinn Féin MPs, McGuinness practised abstentionism in relation to the Westminster Parliament. Following the St. Andrew's Agreement and the Assembly Election of 2007, as Sinn Féin's Political Leader in the North, he became deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland on 8 May 2007, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader, Ian Paisley becoming First Minister.

On 5 June 2008 he was re-appointed as deputy First Minister to serve alongside Peter Robinson, who succeeded Ian Paisley as First Minister. McGuinness previously served as Minister of Education in the Northern Ireland Executive between 1999 and 2002. He was Sinn Féin's candidate for President Of the Republic Of Ireland in the 2011 election.

Turmoil was never an absentee in Northern Ireland politics and on 9th January 2017, Martin resigned as deputy First Minister in a protest over the Renewable Heat Energy controversy.

On the 19th January the Deputy First Minister again made national and international headlines. He appeared on national television and viewers were shocked looking at the man they believed was bullet proof in matters of health.

Martin announced that he would not be standing for re-election to the Northern Ireland Assembly in the 2nd March 2017 Election due to ill health.

He reportedly suffered a genetic cardiac condition that attacks the vital organs rendering the body unable to ward off imminent death. Martin retired shortly before his death on 21st March 2017, aged 66.

Off The Stage!

One of Martin’s middle names, is Pacelli, in reverence to Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli).

He attended St. Eugene's Primary School, Derry and progressed to the Christian Brothers Technical College. His academic studies finalised in 1965.

Martin McGuinness took the hand of Bernadette Canning of Buncrana, Co. Donegal, in marriage in 1974 and their family consisted of Gráinne; Fionnuala; Fíachra and Emett.

His siblings are Tom and Paul McGuiness.

 A man with a huge sporting passion, he was a supporter of Derry's football and hurling teams and he played both sports in his youth until the troubles brought havoc in his life.

The family home was just 50 metres from Celtic Park, Derry's home ground. Martin’s older brother, Tom, played football for Derry and was regarded as one of the county's best ever players.

Tom won three Ulster senior football championship medals, as well as Ulster Under 21 and All Ireland Under 21 championship medals.

Derry City soccer team were also close to Martin’s heart and his younger brother, Paul, played for the famous Candystripes. Manchestere United also had an avid supporter in Martin and from the age of eight he sourced their weekly results.

Non consumption of alcohol during his lifetime gave Martin a clear road ahead every morning and his busy daily political schedule was a task made much easier by his absence from alcohol.

In December 2016, the pioneering peace negotiator was advised against making a planned visit to China on medical grounds. He announced that this was due to unforeseen personal circumstances.

Following a series of subsequent medical tests, Martin was informed he was suffering from a serious health condition and continuing with his heavy daily workload was not practical.

Martin McGuinness was an unlikely Irishman to enter any Hall Of Fame as an Irish statesman and peace broker and despite his unlawful military background in a previous life, he chose a road traversed by Michael Collins, Eamon De Valera and many more outstanding Irish people, all incorporated in our Irish Heritage Gallery of Famous Sons & Daughters of Ireland.

That was the awesome road that incorporated Martin McGuinness in our historic Irish Heritage collection of Famous Sons & Daughters Of Ireland.

May he rest in peace.

Last modified on Wednesday, 30 August 2017 22:20