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a remarkable life

'An IRA leader turned peacemaker': How Martin McGuinness is being remembered internationally

‘The cuddly grandfather figure that he presented in later life was real – but so too was the guerrilla hard man of the 1970s.’

martin McGuinness pictured in July 1984 Peter Kemp / AP/Press Association Images Peter Kemp / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

TRIBUTES HAVE BEEN pouring in from across the political divide since Martin McGuinness’ death was announced yesterday.

McGuinness, who resigned as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister in January over the ’cash for ash’ scandal, had been ill in recent months.

Born into a Roman Catholic family in Derry in 1950, McGuinness became involved with the Republican movement at a young age. By 21, he was the second-in-command of the IRA in his home city – a position he held at the time of Bloody Sunday in 1972.

A divisive figure, he was pivotal in Northern Ireland’s peace negotiations, ultimately choosing politics over violence.

His unlikely but genuine friendship with the Reverend Ian Paisley, the late DUP leader, was seen by many as symbolic of how far the North came after the Troubles, the three-decade period of conflict before the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

The pair got along so well they were dubbed ‘the Chuckle Brothers’, a previously unthinkable scenario.

paisley First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness pictured in 2007 Paul Faith / PA Wire/PA Images Paul Faith / PA Wire/PA Images / PA Wire/PA Images

As Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and others carried McGuinness’ coffin to his home in Derry yesterday, the world was reacting to his death.

download (4) Niall Carson / PA Niall Carson / PA / PA

Former US President Bill Clinton – who phoned the McGuinness family to express his condolences – tweeted that McGuinness was “steadfast and courageous” in his pursuit for a “shared future for Northern Ireland”.

In the UK, former government minister Norman Tebbit, whose wife was paralysed by an IRA bombing of a Brighton hotel in 1984, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain he hoped McGuinness was “parked in a particularly hot and unpleasant corner of hell for the rest of eternity”.

However, Jo Berry, whose father was killed in the bombing, disagreed with his comments:

‘Eulogies that will bring tears to some and fury to others’

In terms of media reaction, the New York Times’ obituary for the “IRA leader turned peacemaker” recalls how McGuinness was “a bright, eager boy who loved the poems of WB Yeats and played chess”.

NY TIMES The New York Times The New York Times

The newspaper notes that he left school at 15 before joining the IRA “like many Bogside youths”.

The piece documents how a man once banned from entering Britain played a vital role in the setting up of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, “a day many thought would never come”.

indo uk

The UK Independent, meanwhile, notes: “When UK ministers involved in the tortuous Northern Ireland peace process began talking to Sinn Féin leaders, they wondered privately whether the men across the table were former IRA “hard men” who had ordered or carried out killings, or mere civil rights activists.

As a former IRA commander, ministers had little doubt to which category Martin McGuinness belonged. Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff, noted his “clear, chilling eyes”. It was odd for Blair to shake hands with men once banned from appearing on UK television –  or, in McGuinness’s case, even prohibited from entering Britain.

Looking to the uncertain future of politics in the North, the piece adds: “With the process now under threat, however strongly Unionists feel about McGuinness’s paramilitary past, they may miss his departure and the stability he brought to the table through experience and good judgement.”


The Guardian’s obituary notes: “The cuddly, chess-playing and fly-fishing grandfather figure that he presented in later life was real – but so too was the guerrilla hard man of the 1970s, who neither smoked nor drank, partly because he was a member of the Catholic Pioneer temperance group, but also to minimise the pressures that might break him under interrogation. He had a toughness honed by years under surveillance.”

BBC News quoted Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son died in an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993. He said he didn’t forgive the IRA or McGuinness, but found him a man who was “sincere in his desire for peace”.

Meanwhile, writing in the Boston Globe, Padraig O’Malley gave this summation:

Much will be written in the coming days about Martin McGuinness, the putative leader of the militant Irish Republican Authority during the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland, who died Tuesday — eulogies that will bring tears to some and fury to others.

“Was he an Irish revolutionary in the mold of Michael Collins, who ruthlessly conducted Ireland’s War of Independence against the British between 1918 to 1921 and is now a hallowed member in our pantheon of national heroes, or was he a cold-blooded murderer who ordered numerous killings during what we euphemistically call “The Troubles’’? Your choice depends on your politics.”

Read: McGuinness on his IRA past: ‘I fought against the British Army on the streets of Derry’

Read: Coffin of Martin McGuinness carried to his home in Derry

Opinion: ‘McGuinness ended up in a better place, bringing his party, followers and society with him’

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