'˜I realised he didn't like violence and he didn't like injury and death and destruction for the sake of it. When it could be avoided he did it.'

Denis Bradley believes the weary narrative of IRA '˜hawk' Martin McGuinness undergoing a Damascene conversion before becoming a champion of the peace process is far too simplistic and says there were always dove-like aspects to the late republican leader.

Wednesday, 22nd March 2017, 8:00 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 11:06 am

The former priest and life-long peace advocate, whose own people were neighbours of Mr. McGuinness’ mother’s folk from the Illies, first got to know the future Sinn Féin leader when he movedto the Long Tower parish in 1970.

Reflecting on the former IRA leader’s remarkable life, yesterday, Mr. Bradley said Mr. McGuinness, while drawn into a leading military role almost from the commencement of the modern day Troubles, had always displayed an aversion to death and destruction for its own sake.

“I don’t think he was as hawkish as people make him out to be at times,” said Mr. Bradley.

“For this reason: using people like me, and other priests and other intermediaries, and so forth, was a sign that while he was not going to turn his back on, and he had, to my mind, an over-commitment to the republican movement, I realised he didn’t like violence and he didn’t like injury and death and destruction for the sake of it. When it could be avoided he did it.”

After moving to the Long Tower in 1970, Mr. Bradley got to know Mr. McGuinness as a parishioner. Though not a member of the local youth club, he was “part of that gang that hung around”.

“Like hundreds of others he got involved in the IRA. Because I knew his mother and I used to call to the house the odd time, I got to know him, and he got to know me,” said Mr. Bradley.

After Bloody Sunday, by which time Mr. McGuinness had already risen to Adjutant of the Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA, the Troubles, the death and the destruction, spiralled drastically.

“The fire got out of control. There was a fire always burning a bit but this was really like a mass wood forest fire,” said Mr. Bradley.

During the course of the 1970s Mr. McGuinness’ influence within the republican movement grew.

It was during this time that Mr. Bradley experienced the dove-like aspects, which belied his reputation as an IRA militarist.

“I suppose because of our background and our knowledge of each other, both family-wise and personally, I used him and he used me.

“And what I mean by the word ‘used’ is that I would have asked favours of him for things not to happen and people to be allowed to do things in the sense of ‘leave them alone, don’t touch them’, and he used me, in the sense of an intermediary with the cops and the army in various situations and he even used me to say, ‘look, try to sort that situation out, somebody’s doing something, it’s not good and he’s going to get himself into trouble’.”

Mr. Bradley believes Mr. McGuinness actively used his influence within the IRA to save people’s lives on several occasions.

“I remember him using me a couple of times too to tell me certain situations were happening, like somebody was in danger of being killed by the IRA and could I sort it out, intervene in some kind of way.

“We used each other within those narrow confines, in which we were capable of doing something, within a broader context where violence was happening on a daily basis.”

For these reasons, Mr. Bradley believes the familiar account of a one-time warlord transformed to peace-maker, is too trite.

“I heard someone describing him as, ‘Paul falling off a white horse’. I don’t think it was a Pauline conversion.

“He was certainly determined, even ruthless, call him that, but walking beside that, hand-in-hand with that, was a desire to see peace, was a desire to overcome the violence, to get past the violence, and that grew as he grew, that matured as he matured.

“So it wasn’t falling off a horse, it wasn’t a Pauline conversion.”

Mr. Bradley believes Mr. McGuinness was on a long journey.

“It was a gradual evolution from a state that he didn’t make, and the reason why I defend him, is that it wasn’t of his making. He was born into it, a place and time, when it was inevitable, because most of his mates, his school friends, joined the IRA at the same time, a good deal were killed, and that was the conflict in which we were in.”

But he knew him I knew his people. I knew his mother and I knew his granny and I knew his aunts before I knew Martin because they came from the Illies and my father and mother both I came from that part of the world.

I was very close to his aunt Mary and I wa very fond of his granny even though I was quite young when I knew her.

“There was a very great warmth in them. They were very warm people. In fact, his aunt married my first cousing so there was all kinds of inter-relatedness.

He was also faced as a politican wlater in hus life that popel wanted him to apologise for his early life and his militant repubclicanism but that’s kind of simplistic analyis of Irish history, is that McGuinness apologing ofr his own life or his own period withi nthe history of Ireland, that would be an apology ofr Padraig Pearse, it would be an apology for Michael Collins, it would be an apoligy for e Valera, it would be an apology for Sena Lemass, it would be an apology that Irihs military movements were wrong and that British mmilitarism was correct. Now tha’ts not going to happen.

I hard someone desribing him a Paul falling off a white horse. I don;t think it was a Pauline conversion. He was cetrainly determined, even ruthless, call him that but walking beside that hand in hand with that was a desire to see peace, was a desire to overomce hte violence, to get past the violence, and that grew as he grew, that matured as matured. So it asn;t falling off a horse, it wasn;t a Pauline conversion.

It was a gradula evolution from a state that he didn’t make, and hte reason why I defend him, is that it wasn;t of his making.

He was born into it, a place and time, when it was inevitable, because most of his mates, his school friends joinred the IRA at the same time, a good deal were killed, and that was the conflict in whihc we were in.

I knew his people. I knew his mother and I knew his granny and I knew his aunts before I knew Martin because they came from the Illies and my father and mother both I came from that part of the world.

I was very close to his aunt Mary and I wa very fond of his granny even though I was quite young when I knew her.

There was a very great warmth in them. They were very warm people. In fact, his aunt married my first cousing so there was all kinds of inter-relatedness.

But MArtin was a Derry man, even thouhg he spent a lot of his time in the Illies during the summer with is granny but he actually was Derry so, he was the McGuinnesses form Derry rather than the McGuinness from Donegal. They were the Walls actually, the Walls were the mothers side. They were the nicknames.

Whatever about that. MArtin was running about Derry whenever I came to Derry in 1970

I went to the Long tower in October of 1970 and MArti nwent to the Chapel there, he wasn;t am mebr of the youht club at the time but he was part of that gang that hung around. Like hudnreds of others he got involved in the IRA. Because I knew his mother and I used to call to the house the odd time, I got to know him and he got to know me.

Those were the times when there was an awfu lot of things happening o nthe streets, there was a lot of change happening, the civil rights movmeent had lost its place ewithin the dynamic of the communtiy at the time and violence was beginnign to increase and the IRa was beginning to create a presence which it hadn;t had in those years in the early 1970s and Blooddy Sundat came right into the heart of that.

Then, if 40 per cent of hte young people were joining the IRA that icnreased to 70 per cent of the young people joining the IRA.

As far as I was concerned the days of the moral encouragement not to join into violence had almost ended after Bloody Sunday and for a period of years we were into just a raw conflict between the British Army nad the police and the various manifestations of the IRA as it was then.

the fire got out of control. There was a fire always a bit burning but that was really like was a mass wood forest fire.

I suppose because of our background nad our knowledge of each other both family wise nad persoanlly I used him and he used me.

And what I mean by the word used is that I would have asked favours of things not to happen and people to be allowed to do things in the sense of leave them alone, don;t touch them and he used me in the sense of an intermediary with the cops and the army in various situations and he even used me to say look try to sort that situation out, somebody’s doing something, it’s not good and he’s going to get himself into trouble.

I remember him using me a couple of times too to tell me certain situations were happening, like, somebody was in danger of beuing killed by the IRA and could I sort it out, intervent in some kind of way.

We used each other wihtin those narrow confiens which we were capable of doing in a broader context were torubles and violence was happening on a daily basis.

That went on for years and years and of course Martin in the early 1970s was in about Derry but hten i nthe 1980s him and Adams, began, after hte fiorst ceasefire had failed, after the first six months 75/76, then Adams began to become the leaders of the republican movement.

Whether he left or not he was still pwoerful in the organisation and in fact his influence grew and grew within the organisation.

McGuinness. There are people out from the unionist and British community, kind of saying, he almsot made the war happen. He was far from making the war happen. The war was deposited into his lap.

He inherited a situation and it blew out of control very fast and politics for a long period of time was swpet aside and just the violent took over. It became the dominant force and the donimant present within the life of people within the city and many other places in Northern ireland and even within Britian itself to some degree.

Now when Maritn McGuinness began to move into the politic situation those who were around, particualrly me and a few others began to hope that this could be the beginning of the end because McGuinness had so much stature within the republican movement taht if he was moving in a line towards politcis and towards peace and he began to use the line, we must become peacemakers, then ythose of us who were around that situation began to realsie that htere was hope, that slowly but gradually, what was being described nationalkly and internationally as an irreconcilable conflict could actually be reconciled nad htere had to be a movmenet away from the military strategies of a militant republicanism.

You know the IRA has accrued a politcal stance that the British would leave Ireland. we’d drive the mout and they had to become part of a bigger political searhc for some consensus between nationalism, republciansim, Britishness and unionism.

And that, of course, was the Good Friday Agreement and McGuinness’ stature comes I think from the fact that he was one of hte first to identify that need and to push down that road. He began to meet with the British and moved o nto the situatio nwhere he was also meeting the Irish and unionists were eventually persuaded to come into that room and around that table so we ended up with the Good Friday Agreement.

What surpsieed most of us who were watching him over the years, was the dexterity and fluidtiy in which he made that journey nad became an astute politician with a great sense of timing and a great sensne of ritual i nthat when he went for something when he saw the possibility nad the need for transformatio nhe grabbed it with both hands. Not all politicans have that.

There is no doubt the ability ws to walk the line of being the hawk and have the reputation of hawk and yet o nthe other hand to blend that iwth being hte potential for being a peacemaker.

Now, the world’s full of hawks and the worlds’ full of peacemakers but blending those two is sometimes hte secret to change, poartciaularly in intractable conflicts.

He owuldn’t be the first military hawkish type person to wlak the line of coming into the political sphere and walking the line of being the peacemaker. It happend in plenty of countries, it happend in the mediterrenane and I think McGuinness takes his place within that history of people who did that.

I don;t htink he was a hawkish as people make him out to be at times.. For this reason. Using people like me and other priests and other intermediaries and so forth was a sign that while he was not going to turn his back and he had to my mind and over commitment to the republican movement I relaised he didn’t Like violence and he didn’t like injury and death and destruction for the sake of it, when it could be avoided he did it. He was also faced as a politican wlater in hus life that popel wanted him to apologise for his early life and his militant repubclicanism but that’s kind of simplistic analyis of Irish history, is that McGuinness apologing ofr his own life or his own period withi nthe history of Ireland, that would be an apology ofr Padraig Pearse, it would be an apology for Michael Collins, it would be an apoligy for e Valera, it would be an apology for Sena Lemass, it would be an apology that Irihs military movements were wrong and that British mmilitarism was correct. Now tha’ts not going to happen.

I hard someone desribing him a Paul falling off a white horse. I don;t think it was a Pauline conversion. He was cetrainly determined, even ruthless, call him that but walking beside that hand in hand with that was a desire to see peace, was a desire to overomce hte violence, to get past the violence, and that grew as he grew, that matured as matured. So it asn;t falling off a horse, it wasn;t a Pauline conversion.

It was a gradula evolution from a state that he didn’t make, and hte reason why I defend him, is that it wasn;t of his making.

He was born into it, a place and time, when it was inevitable, because most of his mates, his school friends joinred the IRA at the same time, a good deal were killed, and that was the conflict in whihc we were in.

Some people will say, but he had a choice, not to do that and some people will say he had a choice not to do that and some people took that choice and that’s right, that’s correct and I wou;ldn;t agree with his choice but I udnerstood whre that came from and I undersatand that history and I understnad tha peace is not necessarily avoiding the history it’s an understanding and integration of the many histories which exit on this island.