Remembering Martin: ‘We were very lucky to have him’

Martin McGuinness Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams during a party meeting in Dublin in 2006.
Martin McGuinness Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams during a party meeting in Dublin in 2006.

In this article, to mark the first anniversary of Martin McGuinness’ death, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald says the Derry man was a peacemaker and a statesman of enormous stature around the world

I have many memories of Martin, my friend and an inspirational leader.

2014... Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald at a Sinn Fein conference in Belfast.

2014... Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald at a Sinn Fein conference in Belfast.

My mind always seems to rest on the trip we took together in June 2016 when we visited the Somme and Flanders for First World War commemorations.

We stood together in Flanders where thousands of Irish men from the Ulster and Irish divisions lost their lives in a brutal imperialist war.

Conor Heaney, who worked for Martin at the time, found his grandfather’s grave. Nobody from his family had ever visited it before.

Martin laid wreaths at monuments dedicated to Irishmen who were British soldiers.

Here was Martin, a Bogside republican, a man who, as an IRA volunteer, fought back against the British Army and the oppression visited upon his hometown and his country. As the joint leader of the Executive, he promoted reconciliation, equality and respect for all sections of the community.

Martin was always prepared to do the things that others wouldn’t or couldn’t do. Martin McGuinness knew that genuine leadership doesn’t have a comfort zone.

He was confident in his republican skin, he recognised the complexity of our shared history and different identities.

Standing amongst the endless lines of white crosses - mute memorials to countless nameless soldiers - through his simple acts of respect, Martin demonstrated our common humanity. A humanity that unites us and sets us free.

Martin McGuinness was an ordinary man who became a giant of Irish politics. He was a republican soldier, a negotiator, a peacemaker, and a statesman of enormous stature, both nationally and internationally.

Some people, in an agenda-driven attempt to depoliticize his life story, have suggested that there were two Martins.

Martin’s republicanism was at the core of all his activities. It was the constant in his life in the Bogside in the 1970s through the Good Friday Agreement and into Stormont Castle.

A fearless republicanism that stood up for those in need, that sought equality, respect and Irish unity. A republicanism that opposed sectarianism and discrimination. It is the key to unlocking Martin the political leader.

Martin was also my good friend. A person who I admired greatly. I looked up to him. Not only because of the quality of his political leadership and considerable talent, but because of the content of his character - generous, kind, friendly, courageous and good natured.

As much as he was THE Martin McGuinness, he was also just Martin.

Martin was warm, giving and humble. He never forgot his roots. He was comfortable and confident dealing with Presidents and Prime Ministers in the name of Ireland. However, I always thought, if given the choice, Martin would have always preferred to go fishing or take in the fortunes of the Derry GAA teams at Celtic Park. His sense of duty decided otherwise for him.

Martin had a genuine love for Ireland and for his people. It was infectious. It was inspiring. It was this deep love that motivated and drove him forward. His heart lay in Derry and with his wife, Bernie, who was the love of his life, but his mind was very much focused on the welfare of the entire island of Ireland.

Martin McGuinness was an ordinary man with an abundance of talent and innate ability to connect with people, no matter their background. But he lived through extraordinary times and he responded to challenges with courage and selflessness.

Martin’s legacy is certainly one of peace, reconciliation, the ending of the sectarian Orange state and the achievement of a democratic way of bringing about Irish Unity.

I am honoured as President of Sinn Féin to follow in his footsteps. My commitment is to continue his work in the spirit of progress, reconciliation and peace. That is the best tribute I could ever pay him.

However, I am sure Martin would agree that his family is his greatest achievement. His two sons, Fiachra and Emmett and his two daughters, Grainne and Fionnula, are his living legacy. He was absolutely in love with his grandchildren. His granddaughter, Cara, sang a beautiful rendition of ‘A Song For Ireland’ at the recent Sinn Féin Special Ard Fheis. I was delighted and I know Martin would have been beaming with pride.

We were lucky to have Martin McGuinness - our gallant Gael who lived every day for Ireland and whose big heart thumped for the people of Derry. Though he is gone a year, I would wager that Martin’s indomitable spirit has found its way back to the Bogside, to the town he loved so well. That thought makes me smile. We are at a loss for his passing but we gain so much from his life.