‘MARTIN MCGUINNESS: THE MAN I KNEW’ by JUDE COLLINS (A REVIEW by Perkin Warbeck)
The stony grey silence which has thus far greeted Martin McGuinness: The Man I Knew by Jude Collins on both sides of the British Border prompts one to paraphrase the famous rhetorical question of St. Samuel A’Beckett: ‘What is the sight of one eye-brow raising’?
No surprises there, then. Move along, please.
It is, one might say, the book world’s equivalent of the bligarding which Martin McGuinness was subjected to during the last Presidential Election south of the Black Sow’s Dyke. In this instance, the monolithic media have opted for the old Irish truism: ‘NÍ dhéanfadh siad fiú neamhshuim den leabhar / They wouldn’t even ignore the book’.
Though one suspects there are a few craftily timed ambushes awaiting this most valuable of volumes further down the boreen. Ballads will even be composed by the likes of the Tone-deaf Sir B. Geldolf, e.g., ‘The Boyz of Killmartin’. The Boyz in this instance will be the boyz – and girlz, gan dabht – of the columns in the Southern Unionist broadsheets, those Crossley Tenders of tendentiousness.
Section 31, one might also say, has not gone away, you know. Why 31, rather than 32 ? One might well ask, for that infamous gagging order extended from Bantry Bay all to way to Londonderry Quay in the key of CCO’B. Perhaps, for the same reason, the 25 county stateen might well be a better fit (one t) than the 26 county model. For even during the worst regresses of Section 31, there was always one big County – call it de real Rebel county, boy – which disdained to dine on the tasteless Corn which CO’B chose to force feed the Bog Oak Monolith with (bad Queen’s English, mo léan).
Among those who still managed to rattle his intellectual saucepan was the great, unbowed Desmond Fennell (happily still with us) who fed the B.O.M. (see previous paragraph) with caviar of the mind.
Jude Collins continues to fulfill a similar role as mental dietitian in the Wee 3. Those addicts of his Raised Blog will recall his recent designation of N.E.N. in which he accurately cut it down to size, leaving it only half the manipulation it used to be. (Raised Blog, incidentally, is shorthand for Raising of Consciousness Blog).
Section 31, which commenced as a Fierce Force (for political censorship) ended its (official) run as a Farce of the Foremost Sort in which synonymous actors voiced the words of mute, inglorious anti-heroes like goddamn Adams and the unblessed Martin who didn’t do a fraction enough Porridge.
The Farce continues to this very day in the form of Archbishop O’Toole . Fine-minded Fintan (for it is he!) who recently made a discovery of truly Magellan proportions, i.e. when he found he actually had a Funny Bone (!!!). This a-mazing detection prompted him- the Neo-Brit-Basher Bates!- to portray Jacob Fink-Nottle, oops, Rees-Mogg as not a real person at all, at all but a ‘performance artist’ or some such scabby avatar.
Funnily enough, ne’er as much a homily yet out of the Archbishop of the Diocese of Anglo-Ireland, much less a pastoral letter on ‘Martin McGuinness: The Man I Knew’. For one who has accumulated a fully justified (gulp) Inter-Continental reputation for his Intellectual Incontinence (this native of working class Crumlin – lest we forget! lest we forget! – will infamously even write in -hang on a second – minute detail about the loosening of his down-at-heel shoelaces while running for the proletarian number 77 bus as a topic of National Import).
Millteanach an t-ábhar iontais an neamhaird sin.
Especially when one considers the ‘news’ which of late convulsed The Unionist Times with a joyous mixture of relief immeasurable and bogus belief. And caused a multitude of sweaty mitres to be tossed into the air in jubilation unbridled.
More, one suspects, like ‘snowflake news’. One refers, of course, to the return of the heart of Archbishop O’Toole’s distant ancestor, Great-great-great-great etc etc Uncle Lar to the Christ Church of Ireland (sic) Cathedral . From which it had been ‘stolen’ some time ago. An t-Ardeaspag Labhrás Ó Tuathail / Archbishop Laurence O’Toole was, of course, a lapsed Protestant who – miraculously ! – died almost 400 years before Fat Harry greasily thumbed a snooty (double o, one t)) nose in the direction of Roma AC.
(Ciúnas! Ag bun an ranga!)
One word which was studiously avoided in this blanket coverage of ‘snowflake news’ was the b-word: b for ‘borrowed’. Just as the heart of Flinty Finty’s Uncle Lar’s heart was borrowed rather than ‘stolen’ so also were the twin cathedrals of Christ Church and its cheek by jowl neighbour, St. Patrick’s, erm, borrowed. But then, Cathedrals are not unlike Library Books: the longer it takes to return an overdue borrowed book , the more difficult it is to return it. Even in these ecumenical times, darling! And all this in the same week that fines for late-returning library books in the Free Southern Stateen were finally abolished.
(CIÚNAS ! Ag bun an ranga!)
Archbishop Fintan’s heart, however, was not borrowed by the Church of Ireland (sic). Ever since he used to sneak in as a snotty (one o, two t’s) schoolboy in short pants and (de rigueur) loose shoelaces from (lest we forget !) the working class RC suburb of Crumlin into (hush) St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a quick gawk his heart was stolen by the Protestant pomp and pageantry of the superior, interior decor. Numbered not least among which ecclesiastical ornamentation were (and still are) Aprúin an Bhúistéara / The Union Jacks and Colourful Pennants of the Civilising Regiments of the Crown.
Thus, it was only a matter of time (which does not quite rhyme with hope and history) before the wish fulfillment of one of the legendary West British Wet Dreams was finally reaslised. This came to pass when, last year, Archbishop O’Toole, the Spiritual Director of the Shoneen Diocese, got to mount the (gulp) pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral (borrowed). From that Carauntoohil-high vantage point of moral supremacy The Fine-Minded Fintan got to deliver a solemn sermon on the mounting problems being solved by an open-minded Ireland of the post-Gaelic Welcomes, that sorta thingy. To borrow a ho-ho Heaney phrase from the Santa Clause of Benign Blandness: ‘a new spirit-level was born’.
But, to return to that barrowful of borrowed books (see above). And down to business. To review a book which deserves to be bought rather than borrowed: Martin McGuinness: The Man I Knew by Jude Collins.
How to begin? It has been observed that there is no place like home. Now, Martin McGuinness grew up in a home full of footballers – his brothers Tom and Paul came to prominence, the first as a Gaelic player, the second as a soccer player – what better way then than to let the book do the talking. Much in the same way as the career of a famous footballer of whatever code is told on television by showing highlights of his playing days.
(Incidentally one deliberately uses the term ‘soccer player’ for to employ the term ‘footballer’ alone as has been the growing tendency in Dublin, at least, is to adopt a unit of imperial measurement).
The book consists of interviews with people who encountered Martin McGuinness at various stages of his life. Under the astute coaxing of the interviewer the book manages, splendidly, to illuminate, by anecdote, recollection and opinion the man who was Martin McGuinness. (While also shedding light on the contributors themselves, some more than others). All the while, Jude Collins, like the best of refs and the best of haircuts, remains unnoticed. He judiciously spares the whistle and lets the game flow.
Here is but a tiny fraction of the goals, points, throw-ins, defence-splitting passes from the outside of the boot, in-swinging corners, high-fieldings from a standing jump, nut-megs, midfield generalship, mazy dribbles and solo-runs which caught this reader’s eye – bracketed comments in Italics from the terraces may fall well short of the text, but they are, alas, mine own.
“And there was this local character when you had to drive through Toome…..out each morning clean, dressed, fed, upright; by the evening, collapsed at the side of the street with a feed of drink. So Martin had figured out by observing him that there was someone who looked after him and loved him. Martin wrote a beautiful poem about it. He read it to me as I was driving”.
“And as I shook hands with Martin I said: ‘Your mother makes good soup”.
(This soup anecdote might have more significance than even one who wears his OBE on his sleeve might appreciate).
“By the way, some people say the same of me that they do of Martin: that I’m very nice, but that I’m a ruthless bastard, that I’ve done things that have shocked them. Personally I would have thought I was much less ruthless than him”.
(Oh, Lord, make me bad – but not that bad).
DERMOT AHERN :
(Re. St. Andrews Agreement): “Adams and McGuinness were upset about some of the finer details in the agreement – I can’t remember exactly what”.
(Ah, yes, the fine legal mind, never too arsed about such tedious things as ‘finer details’. Especially, the FFine legal mind).
(Sinn Fein in the corridors of Stormont): “They didn’t offer to shake hands, which in hindsight I thought was actually very big of them. They didn’t want to put me in an uncomfortable. position.However we were treated with absolute contempt by the DUP and by Bob McCartney.”
GEORGE MITCHELL :
(To David Trimble): ‘ “David, we know you love opera. Have you been to the opera lately?” “ No, but I listened to one last night at home and he described it’.
(Probably a soap-opera, possibly Coronation Street).
“Craigavon Bridge is quite wide so there were fourteen, fifteen people in each rank. And right in the middle of the front row you’ll see this blond-haired guy with a sort of diffident look on his face. That’s Martin McGuinness”.
(Many are the references in the book to MMcG being a ringer for Art Garfunkel. Prompting one to think of his putative signature hit: ‘Troubled Bridge over Water’ ?).
“When the queen first visited Ireland, I wrote a piece – I think for The Guardian – and the title was ‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheep’.”
“Alastair Campbell and I stayed at the far side of the table and avoided shaking hands”.
(Shake News as first propagated by the Late, Late Gay Byrne).
“Martin was Gerry’s best friend, and vice versa”.
‘” hadn’t asked Tom, as I was working on the old Irish idea of better to seek forgiveness than ask permission”.
“ ‘So I imagine I’ll be able to handle her too’. I said, ‘I don’t think you know this woman. She’s from around here’.”
“David, there are clearly a lot of closet Martin fans”.
“He asked, ‘Do you mind flying?’. That was his first question. …I said I happened to be reading in the Psalms one morning and I came across this verse – ‘He shall cover thee with his feathers, and with his wings thou shall trust’.”
JAMES T. WALSH:
“He wrote one poem that I have somewhere and the title was ‘The Last of the Mohicans’.”
“Sometimes if he was in to see one specific person, he’d give what they call ‘the republican nod’.”
“He wasn’t really different from Gerry in personality. Everybody is unique, but I’d assign a lot of the same attributes to Gerry as I would to Martin. These two were similar in more ways than not. Fun-loving and strategically brilliant.”
“The UUP and the DUP were never involved in violence, the SDLP the same, but Sinn Féin was; so it took a huge effort to bring Sinn Féin in.”
AODHÁN MAC an tSAOIR :
“So, afterwards I said to Martin that I’d a Tommy Fleming tape in the car. He said, ‘Will you go back and give Mandelson that tape and tell him I hope he enjoys listening to Tommy Fleming”.
THOMAS P. DINAPOLI:
“So I responded, ‘There’s no doubt that Belfast is a working city and that Belfast hums. But Derry sings’.”
PETER KING :
“When I first ran for Congress in 1992, I used to be attacked. John Taylor went on television and said I was an evil man.”
(What an endorsement !)
“Once asked on radio if I trusted Sinn Fein, I replied that I trusted the necessities they were under.”
(Hang on there, Mawtan, while one decommissions that enigmatic epigram).
“He came out of the car, I remember, and the police were twenty, thirty feet away, and he was talking excitedly on his cell phone to someone: ‘Pat stopped the traffic for us!’.”
(You remember young Peter O Loughlin of course).
MARY LOU McDONALD:
“If you messed up, Martin McGuinness didn’t have to raise his voice, he would simply have to give you ‘The Look’.”
NIALL O DOWD:
“I remember one time Martin and Gerry were staying in a hotel in Manhattan, just down the street from here. It was a Saturday afternoon and I went down to see them and I said, ‘Why don’t we go for a drink?’ Something like that. They said,’No, no, no -we’re going to the Indian Cultural Museum’. And that was it.”
“I remember Martin O Brien from the Irish News rang me and asked could we agree not to carry death notices or those sorts of IRA notices when one of their volunteers had died.”
“I’m the last American president to ever live in a house without an indoor toilet and it’s very much overrated except for its political value.”
“They used to tell a joke about one time he was in a lift with three unionists and he said, ‘I’ve got you surrounded!’.”
Here now is a random selection of others lines – have fun matching names to quotes – and then don’t beg the book but rather leg it to the nearest bookshop or failing that, then to the most trustworthy of bookleggers.
“And I said he’d no need to do these interviews. And do you know why he agreed to do them? So he could go in and talk to Arlene. He said later on it was like climbing Everest.”
“One day some of the folks in the office noticed Paddy climbing over the flat roof and said to him, ‘Are the Brits here?’. And he said, ‘No, but there’s an oul’ doll down their with a complaint – I don’t want to see her !’ “
“There’s a doctor here in Derry and he said to me one day, ‘I’d love to know who is this two-headed monster I keep reading about in all the British tabloids and in some of the Irish papers’.”
“I was involved with John Hume in that famous sit-down at the time of Operation Motorman. In fact, I probably led that sit-down more than Hume – Hume fell in on that accidentally.”
“I was brought up along with Roman Catholic people”.
“I was not going to be an SDLP supporter. I didn’t see them as having any future in resolving this situation”
“There’s a difference between using terror and using armed force”.
“He felt that a lot of people in the south forgot that we in the north were not British, we were Irish, and the Dublin 4 set had almost obliterated recognition of that.”
“So Nell hands me this bell-push and a huge screw-driver and says to me: ‘Can you fix that f-ing thing’. “
(Re Northern Bank robbery): “They kept challenging us, ‘Show us the proof’. Naturally, we weren’t going to say, ‘This is the proof’. But it was the very strong advice of our own garda, whom we would trust, and also the intelligence from the British side”.
“David Trimble also misread us and got it wrong when in 1998, possibly being misadvised by the informer Sean O Callaghan, he said, Sinn Fein have an exit strategy”.
“There was a war. It’s over’. But the Brits will never say that.”
(Re sectarian tit-for-tat killing)…”But the IRA response was measured and Martin would say: ‘No, boys, we’re not going to get into that game’. “
With this book, Jude Collins has done not just this Irish stateen some service but also the one on the other side of the British Border. It is the first draft of history and will be of inestimable value to future historians.
It will be, of course, argot practice for wannabe political hacks posing as historians in contemporary Dublin at this moment in time, going forward. That would be Georgian Dublin. In fact, the same Dublin whose predominant political architecture is Lloyd Georgian. The same daffodil down Taffy who brought about the British Border in Ireland by ordering I.A.T. War , or else.
Garret FitzGerald (big G) was a great one entirely for doing the old I.A.T. routine for his party piece. Not to be confused with Ella Fitzgerald (small g) whose bag was SCAT.
I.A.T. = Immediate and Terrible.
Martin McGuinness took this and left THAT.