‘McGuinness The Man: His Life & His Legacy’ by Donal Lavery

It would be wrong to suggest that Martin McGuinness didn’t divide opinion; anyone with a strong set of ideas and an underlying philosophy behind them will inevitably have detractors. Just like Fidel Castro or even his foe Margaret Thatcher, he didn’t care what people thought of him personally, he knew what he believed and pursued those things vigorously despite vehement opposition from all quarters. That’s what distinguishes between a conviction politician and a canny careerist who simply wants elected. Those who are ideological about their core philosophy don’t need the media or banks or state to necessarily be on their side in order to hold their ground, they know what they think. They say what they mean and they mean what they say. When Mrs. Thatcher died, I was talking to a friend and he asked me my views on her – I said that I hated virtually everything she did but I never doubted for a second that she believed what she was doing, and by God did she set about doing it. The Left has now lost such a rare figure.

I met Martin McGuinness when I was younger and while at university up in his office at Stormont, and not knowing how he would like to be addressed I simply said “how are you sir?” He laughed and remarked “This well-brought up young man knows I have met the Queen but I certainly haven’t accepted a knighthood, Donal!” And from that point on, he was very disarming and friendly. There was a glint of mischief in his eye, which Alistair Campbell once remarked upon; a noticeable lack of fear or the capacity to be intimidated. He was authoritative but distrusting of authority, a radical by mind and by heart. When he first went to Downing Street to meet Mo Mowlam and Tony Blair, he told Blair straight that any proposals would have to be communicated back to the IRA for approval. Blair looked at him and then with a giggle replied, “Well Martin, there’s a mirror in the next room!”

Before McGuinness was even born, there had been routine discrimination against Catholics and also violent conflict between the two traditions in the North. The British Government had armed Protestant militias following the inception of the Orange State; and brutality was a systematic practice of life here. I’m old enough to remember British soldiers still being on the streets, even after the ceasefires, and can recall the deplorable manner in which the RUC treated nationalist citizens. It was a grim atmosphere which spanned almost a century, predating any revisionist sentiments that somehow people like Martin initiated this divide. But one thing I would ask the revisionists is this, would they seriously opt to go and live in that environment? To grow up in it and raise a family under the heel of British militarism? Could they honestly guarantee not to oppose it by force of arms?

He may not have initiated the war but he was a driving force in concluding it, with particular emphasis on securing the best possible deal that could be achieved for Irish people in the North-East counties. Now, Catholics aren’t burnt out of their homes or denied jobs; they aren’t tortured or assassinated by SAS hit-squads; they aren’t chopped to pieces by the Lenny Murphy’s of this state; and they aren’t afraid to achieve big things in education or life. So it would be unfair to forget those who helped bring about this reality, by any means necessary, at that time. For within the Irish psyche, there are forces in this world mightier than parliamentary majorities, and a vision guided by the human heart is a very powerful weapon. Former Tory Cabinet Minister, Enoch Powell, once said that the “freedom to be an independent self-governing nation is the highest political priority and one which any price is worth paying.”

Those who seek to ridicule the deceased for his past efforts have many a political skeleton in their own closets. Mr Kenny is only able to sit and legislate in a Dublin parliament due to the intensity of a prior IRA campaign. Likewise, those who were in the security forces engaged in pro-state terrorism and counter-insurgency warfare against anti-state radicals and the nationalist community at large. Lord Tebbit was a member of a government which used enormous brutality against striking miners, while backing the fascist regimes of Pinochet and Pol Pot (which exterminated many of their own citizens). So opposition to violence is a busted flush with these old revisionists. The key difference is whether violence was used to benefit people generally or to oppress them. And I don’t think the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Falklands did much by way of benefitting our fellow man.

When the British Government finally had the nerve to impose power-sharing on the Unionists, I often thought it would collapse. The sight of a former IRA Commander doing business with Ian Paisley stunned the world, and in a good way. People realised, the age old adage, that if you generally stopped people from holding office due to their past, or over adultery, addictions, war and so forth, then you would have no government! As Mr. Clinton and Mr. Blair well know. The real pertinence is what they do with their office and it’s hard to find anything critical about Martin’s tenure personally.

He came a long way and made power-sharing work longer and better than both Seamus Mallon and Mark Durkan before him. The Assembly under McGuinness and Paisley was a far nicer atmosphere. Old battles became wars of words and former foes ended up unlikely friends. It was very important that that ethos sustained because it provided many people from the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist community with the reassurance that, despite decades of Unionist misrule, under republicans in office they would know no such injustice. Tony Benn once remarked in the 1980’s, in a sermon on the mount, that all these great anti-colonial leaders are initially jailed and branded as “terrorists”, but end up having tea with the Queen as world statesmen. And what a prophetical judgement that turned out to be. He lived to see it realised.

People generally seem to think that those who are younger tend to be more radical. But whether it’s Varadkar, Coveney or Michael Martin, Mr. McGuinness was to the left of them all on absolutely everything. The greatest epitaph to him would be, once and for all, to rid this country of foreign domination – for as that former “terrorist” George Washington once opined, “an attachment of one country to another is the most baneful foe of republican government.” Ultimately, Martin McGuinness said what he meant and meant what he said; His arena changed but his principles didn’t. And you can’t ask for more than that. Derry has lost a patriot and Mother Ireland has lost a son.
-To his wife, children and wider family I say this, with the passing of each new day in this life is one step closer to seeing him again in the next.

28 Responses to ‘McGuinness The Man: His Life & His Legacy’ by Donal Lavery

  1. giordanobruno March 28, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    “He may not have initiated the war but he was a driving force in concluding it”
    In between the start and the end of that sentence falls the shadow.

  2. Bridget Cairns March 28, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

    “the shadow” as you call it, can you explain what you mean, Gio?

    • giordanobruno March 28, 2017 at 12:53 pm #

      I have explained it several times in recent days.
      I am referring to the series of articles we have seen here which skip over the actuality of McGuinness’s time in the IRA.
      In all the talk of peacemaker poet fisherman reluctantly going to war there is no mention of the victims of the IRA in Derry during his leadership.
      It’s almost as if he didn’t actually do anything other than sit about reading poetry with a twinkle in his eye.
      I wonder why we cannot see an honest appraisal of ‘the man his life and legacy’.

      • fiosrach March 28, 2017 at 12:57 pm #

        You’re on the wrong blog. Try MacFool. You won’t be disappointed.

        • Scott Rutherford March 28, 2017 at 1:21 pm #

          Only Shnnerbots welcome eh fiosrach?

          • Scott Rutherford March 28, 2017 at 1:22 pm #


          • fiosrach March 28, 2017 at 1:30 pm #

            Independent thinkers too,Scott

  3. Bridget Cairns March 28, 2017 at 1:18 pm #

    Gio, there has been wide-spread coverage of the life & death of MMcG’s, and I,m sure with a little trawl through social media you will find the “actuality” that you seek. agree with fiosrach, you just may be on the wrong blog.

    However, perhaps you should read (or perhaps you already do) sunday independent, irish times & other southern media who have spent well nigh on 40 years demonising MMcG & SF.

    • giordanobruno March 28, 2017 at 2:29 pm #

      I am amazed at that reply.
      I thought this was an open welcoming space for all viewpoints, (I think those were Jude’s words).
      I am not looking for articles demonising the man any more than I am looking for hagiography.
      Just the facts.
      Do you want to be treated like a child fed only soft mushy pap about mother Ireland?

  4. moser March 28, 2017 at 1:54 pm #

    Is Gio not entitled to his opinion ? I think it’s a bit harsh suggesting he go elsewhere.

    • giordanobruno March 28, 2017 at 2:25 pm #

      Thank you.

    • fiosrach March 28, 2017 at 2:33 pm #

      If he’s looking somebody to do the dirt on MMcG he should look elsewhere. I think this blog of Jude’s would be a lot poorer without the ‘dissidents’. It gives us Shinnerbots a chance to educate them. (Light hearted banter)

  5. angela March 28, 2017 at 2:39 pm #


    Everyone here is giving their opinion on MMcG. You are certainly entitled to yours as well

    But you are complainng about these opinions instead of stating what yours is?

    I don’t think it’s harsh to point out that if you’re looking for a contra argument to look elsewhere

    as has been pointed out to you many times your opinion is valued here… perhaps you

    should let us know what that is instead of just complaining about others.

    • giordanobruno March 28, 2017 at 3:22 pm #

      I have given my opinion over and over ad infinitum, about McGuinness and other subjects.
      Others are free to disagree with it rather than try to close it down.
      I was under the impression that I was free to challenge other opinions too, but maybe we have already entered the brave new world of new Sinn Fein where history is airbrushed to remove the unpalatable bits.
      Gerry was never in the IRA, Martin never hurt a fly(except while fishing) and the IRA campaign was all about civil rights.
      Yes boss I’ve got my mind right.

    • moser March 28, 2017 at 3:59 pm #

      Angela, any regular visitor to this blog would know what I think about Martin GuInness. I welcome Gio’s opinion even if I don’t agree. Gio is civil and polite in his discourse.

  6. angela March 28, 2017 at 4:03 pm #


    have NEVER read here any of those things you have quoted above. Why are you debaising yourself like this.

  7. angela March 28, 2017 at 4:04 pm #

    Debasing *

  8. Bridget Cairns March 28, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

    Gio, you sought an “honest appraisal” of MMcG’s which clearly you feel you didn’t get on this site. In other words you did not get the “appraisal” you would have liked and so I advised you to look elsewhere. And leave out the condescending attitude.

    • giordanobruno March 28, 2017 at 5:22 pm #

      Have you read an honest appraisal of Martin McGuinness on this site, one which includes some acknowledgement of victims?
      If so please point me to it.

      • Argenta March 28, 2017 at 10:31 pm #

        It would certainly be an optimistic person who would expect an honest appraisal of Martin’s life on this blog site.Once again Donal has delivered another hagiography.Clearly he is a true believer in all things Republican and his heroes have no feet of clay!The intolerance shown by many posters to your fairly reasonable comments perhaps show the true face of Sinn Fein where dissenting voices are not welcomed or encouraged.Jim Fitzpatrick ‘s report on Spotlight tonight about M Mc G delivered a more rounded account off his life than would ever be evident on this blogspot.

        • giordanobruno March 29, 2017 at 10:53 am #

          You appear to be correct
          I have not seen Spotlight yet but seemingly it does actually mention some victims, which has sadly been missing here.

  9. Bridget Cairns March 28, 2017 at 5:56 pm #

    if I wanted a “different” appraisal, Gio, I would and have, read various appraisals. I believe that there are numerous appraisals of MMcG’s , and certainly ones that may deal only with the legacy of victims. Again, I, suggest that you find one that reflects your opinion of him. As they say, Gio, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

    • giordanobruno March 28, 2017 at 10:27 pm #

      Find an appraisal that reflects my opinion?
      Blogs like this would be very dull if we all just go looking for opinions that bolster our own world view.
      If that is what you choose to do fair enough but don’t try to tell everyone else to limit themselves in such a way.
      Now which appraisal did you say was an honest one?

  10. ANOTHER JUDE March 29, 2017 at 5:34 am #

    To the many people who have tried to rain on Martin’s parade, criticising his ‘violent past’ I have a question. What do you think of Marine A or whatever he is called? Hero or villain? Personally I think a crime is a crime is a crime. As a certain British PM once said.

    • giordanobruno March 29, 2017 at 7:24 am #

      Dear AJ
      Well done on your efforts at whataboutery.
      Can we suggest you try someone a wee bit more relevant maybe Billy Wright or the RUC.
      Alternatively go big and throw in Hiroshima or Dresden or even the Gulf War.
      The important thing is never to mention anything Marty might have been involved in specifically.
      Hope this helps.
      Your Friends in Connolly House.

      • ANOTHER JUDE March 29, 2017 at 10:09 am #

        No, I want to hear what critics of Martin think of the so called Marine A. I think I already know but it would be good to hear them come to his defence.

  11. Bridget Cairns March 29, 2017 at 8:22 am #

    Gio, my final words on this, it is not up to me what is written on this blog or who writes what. I am not in the business of censorship and I suggest if you have not found what you are looking for, perhaps you could post what your own “honest appraisal” of MMcG’s on this site.
    “Don’t tell everyone else to limit themselves” very defensive language and no evidence to support that assertion.

    • giordanobruno March 29, 2017 at 10:47 am #

      If it does not concern you that we are being given a partial view of such a significant figure that is up to you.
      All the best.