TV review: Martin McGuinness

This review first appeared in The Andersonstown News

Ian Paisley Jr got one of the opening remarks in MARTIN McGUINNESS (TG4) “When people say to me ‘Why did you make those arrangements with the former terrorist Martin McGuinness?’  I say ‘The word ‘former’”.

This was a detailed 90-minute look at the former Deputy First Minister, from a personal and a political perspective. All the big names were there to remember him in overwhelmingly positive terms. The documentary makers presented his life under three headings – Trodaí /Fighter,  Iderfheartaí/Negotiator and Polaiteoir /Politician. But these were loose headings – the programme started with the massed crowds accompanying his coffin to the Long Tower Church. The English film-maker Peter Taylor recalled being invited to the wake and looking down at the dead man in his coffin: “Without him, there wouldn’t have been the peace process there was.” Sinn Féin veteran Pat Doherty was at the wake too “They say grown men don’t cry. I cried.”

Tom McGuinness, Martin’s brother, made frequent contributions. Martin’s footballing ability? “He aspired to play like Paul and me, but he was rather statuesque. We called him Lanky.”  He also remembered the first time Martin went missing from home for several days, and his mother found his IRA beret and Sam Browne belt. When he finally appeared, his mother laid into him about becoming involved in violence. His father, Tom told us, was calm and quiet. Finally he told Martin “If you want to stay here, boy, there’s going to be none of that.” Martin looked at his father, then went upstairs and packed a few things. From then on, he was effectively on the run.

Then there was a two-shot of Martin and Mary Lou, with an off-camera voice asking “What was it led you to become …a republican? Was it a single event?” (It startled me when I realised the questioning voice was my own.) It was an evolutionary process, Martin said – from seeing civil rights marchers beaten off the street to “knowing that neighbours of mine were being shot dead on the street by the Royal Anglian Regiment.”

In an awkward attempt to be ‘balanced’, a relative of a victim of the Birmingham bombings complained bitterly that Martin died without naming those who did the deed, and that he hadn’t revealed the whereabouts of the Disappeared. “That was unforgiveable”.

The documentary ended with that unforgettable night when Martin, supported by Bernie,told the crowd that his heart belonged with the Bogside and the people of Derry: “Go raibh mile,mile maith agaibh.”

 Agus leat féin, Martin, agus leat féin.

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