A mighty oak has fallen. This is how someone described the passing of Martin McGuinness.
I have no doubt Martin would have found comfort in this, not for the reference to the ‘mighty’ but to be associated with the ‘oak.’
From the name plaque, ‘Dercain Beag,’ outside his family home; to the Church of St. Columba where his Requiem Mass was held; to his love of Derry, the oak leaf held a special place in his heart.
In a tribute to his mother, Peggy, I wrote of that link to the McGuinness family. At that time, I said that, rather than falling, the oak casts its leaves in Autumn but in the Spring comes restoration and colour.
So, for me, this mighty oak has not fallen, its strength may have waned, but its ability to inspire us remains as strong as ever, indeed even stronger.
Martin loved nothing more than people.
His love for Bernie, Gráinne, Fionnuala, Fiachra, and Emmet; his grandchildren; his brothers Tom, Paul, William, Declan, John and his only sister Geraldine, and all their families was obvious in his every word and action when he was with them and spoke of them.
They are in our thoughts, their loss is immeasurable and no composition of words will diminish their pain.
That love of people was equally obvious when you were in his company.
His calm, assuring manner exuded warmth and empathy that few, if any, possess. Be it in a political meeting, social or sporting settings or as he ambled the streets of Derry, walked along a river bank, or a seashore in Donegal.
His ability to listen, to empathise would soon become advice, counsel or assistance whenever necessary. And often.
Over the past few days, that bond of friendship was evident in the tens of thousands who came to his home and to his funeral to pay that personal respect.
Martin was laid to rest in a manner befitting to him and by people he treasured.
Much has been written about Martin McGuinness, we don’t need to be told who he was.
We know who he is, after all he told us often enough.
He was a husband, father and grandfather. He was a son and a brother. He was an Irish Republican. He was a Gael. He was a Volunteer, he was a political prisoner, he was a leader.
He was our source of inspiration. He fought for Irish freedom his entire life and he did so with all his might until the end.
He knew what needed to be done and when it was required to be done. All with equal certainty and without regret.
Always there, patient and willing.
He had that great knack of passing on reassurance, never patronising. That use of: “Well done, everyone” in appropriate times and in uncertain times when he knew heads needed lifted.
Kind and generous, not just in a material way, but in circumstances where words were welcome. We all benefited from this.
To Rose and Conchúr, to our family, my mother and father, he shared family occasions and us with him and his family.
Whenever he was with my father, the gentle tease of: “Here’s the man who turned my life upside down.” My father was his first election agent in the Assembly election in 1982.
Poignantly, my brother Noel was to be his last.
The last time for many that Martin was with us was at the Selection Convention for Elisha and I, just days after he called time on the Assembly.
None of us will forget when he told us that his heart was breaking.
We pledged that night that we would lift his heart. We did. We will treasure the big thumbs up from him the day of the count. Forever. But now our hearts are sore.
Whatever the pain we may feel, it must be carried forward and remain our source of inspiration.
Martin has left to us all his memory, the legacy of his activism in our quest for a new Ireland.
This mighty oak has not fallen, it has only shed its leaves, this time in Spring, but the dearcain beag have been cast gently in the wind. They will fall to the soil and many more oaks will grow and his life’s work will be done.
Be certain of that, Martin.
Slán abhaile. Tight lines. We miss you, go deo.
Raymond McCartney is a Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle