Saturday 22 July 2017

Long and winding journey comes to end as McGuinness laid to rest

Friends and former foes among 10,000 to pay respects, writes Nicola Anderson
Huge crowds line the route of the funeral cortege. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Huge crowds line the route of the funeral cortege. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

There was a former US president, there was Michael D, and there were the various leaders past and present.

But the most significant political presence by a country mile was the doughty, stubborn woman whose slightly sour expression betrayed the fact that she did not want to be there at all.

Arlene Foster's reward was the heartfelt and prolonged applause that greeted her on her arrival at St Columba's Church for the funeral of her political nemesis, Martin McGuinness. The crowd acknowledged that this had been a difficult step for her to take - but the right one.

Here was the peace process in action - and undoubtedly still a work in progress judging by the DUP leader's frown.

"Arlene, have you a word?" urged a reporter afterwards.

"No," came her brief reply.

"Well, you got your word," chuckled a funeral steward.

Her crucial gesture - grudging though it may have been - was acknowledged, too, by former US President Bill Clinton who singled her out for special mention, saying: "Thank you for being here."

Mr Clinton summed up the remarkable path of Mr McGuinness's career in one wry, pithy sentence: "After all the breath he expended cursing the British over the years, he worked with two prime ministers and shook hands with the queen."

The ocean of mourners who turned out on the streets of Derry bore witness to just how important the journey of their city's son had been, touching each and every one of their lives - and far, far beyond.

Fionnuala and Gráinne McGuinness carry their father’s remains. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Fionnuala and Gráinne McGuinness carry their father’s remains. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Arlene Foster after the funeral of Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness. Photo: PA
John Hume and wife Pat arriving for the funeral of Martin McGuinness. Photo: PA
Irish President Michael D Higgins (second right) arriving for the funeral of Martin McGuinness. Photo: PA
Former US President Bill Clinton (left) and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern arriving for the funeral of Martin McGuinness. Photo: PA
Fine Gael politician Simon Coveney. Photo: PA

It spoke, too, of forgiveness. The activities of Mr McGuinness in his days as IRA commander had also scarred many lives, whether unionist or republican. Many still vividly remembered what it was like to live in that environment of claustrophobic fear and watchfulness.

Read more: 'A remarkable man and his life was a remarkable journey' - Derry comes to a standstill for funeral of Martin McGuinness

Amid the rolling hills of the city, it was impossible to estimate how many of them stood to watch the hearse carrying the remains of the former deputy first minister go past - but conservative figures stood at 10,000. Suffice to say, not a bare patch of ground was to be observed. Elderly men were scaling fences they never would have dreamed of tackling if not to geta better view.

Among this remarkable crowd was one man who had seen the events of Bloody Sunday unfold with his own eyes and whose own father had been shot in retaliation for the republican activities of his sons. He still wears his gold ring and says: "Not a day goes by that I don't remember him."

Former US president Bill Clinton pauses to touch the coffin after speaking at the funeral of Martin McGuinness in Derry. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Former US president Bill Clinton pauses to touch the coffin after speaking at the funeral of Martin McGuinness in Derry. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

His own sons now thank him because they "don't have to join the IRA".

But knowing that peace is a fragile thing, this father remains cautious. He fears what will happen with Brexit, saying that if a hard border goes back up, the situation is almost certain to regress because "that's the way it goes". The return of the old familiar uncertainty made the legacy of the former warmaker turned peacemaker even more precious.

At the modest McGuinness home on Westland Terrace on the Bogside, where the former leader had lived with his wife Bernie and children Gráinne, Fionnuala, Fiachra and Emmet, preparations were being made to take his remains to the church.

Close by, Frances Black sang 'On Raglan Road', one of his favourites, while Matt Molloy of The Chieftains played a slow air on the flute, as the coffin, draped in a tricolour, went by.

At the famous Free Derry Mural, the applause rang out in rapturous gratitude for all he had done to bring peace.

A weathered green poster on a flag pole still bore the defiant message: "Brits Out Now IRA".

On arrival at the tiny stone-cut church that had been central to Martin McGuinness's life, the enormous crowd stood to clap their appreciation.

Dignitaries included - as well as Mr Clinton - President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former president Mary McAleese and husband Martin who had himself played a key role in the peace process, former taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and Michelle O'Neill, the party leader in the North, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, and the PSNI police chief George Hamilton. John Hume was also there, ill of health - but nevertheless determined to be present.

The first reading, a funeral perennial never seemed more appropriate, with its reference to: "A time for killing, a time for healing . . . a time for loving and a time for hating. A time for war and a time for peace."

Fr Michael Canny, a friend of the McGuinness family, said that if people wanted to see a monument to Mr McGuinness they should look around them.

"Your coming is the most eloquent testimony to the memory of Martin McGuinness," he said.

Later in his homily, he acknowledged the complexity of Mr Guinness.

"I have had many conversations with Martin down through the years and he knew only too well how many people struggled with his IRA past," he said.

"Republicans were not blameless, and many people right across the community find it difficult to forgive and impossible to forget."

Presbyterian Minister Rev David Latimer - who was criticised previously for his friendship with Mr McGuinness - told mourners that he had bequeathed to them a better place to live where they could "get to know each other better".

But it was left to Mr Clinton to have the final word on Martin McGuinness, with whom he had grown to "treasure every encounter".

"I liked him," he said simply.

Quipping that they had given him three minutes to speak, Mr Clinton said Mr McGuinness would have managed it in 30 seconds: "I fought, I made peace, I made politics."

In the republican tradition, there was a graveside oration.

"There was not a bad Martin McGuinness or a good Martin McGuinness. There was simply a man, like every other decent man or woman, doing his best," said Gerry Adams.

"It is now over to us to take the struggle from where he has left it. Like Bobby Sands, he believed that our revenge should be the laughter of our children," he said.

No volley of shots was fired.

Irish Independent

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