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Voices

Eileen Paisley: 'I think there was a quietness and shyness about Martin. He was good company'

Jude Collins’ Martin McGuinness: The Man I Knew was released to commemorate the first anniversary of the passing of one of Ireland’s most iconic politicians. This is an extract of Eileen Paisley’s account of his friendship with her husband, Ian Paisley.

I THINK THERE was a quietness and shyness about Martin. He was good company – interesting to talk to. I don’t know – I think they saw each other as they really were, underneath, beyond what was on the outside.

I think some Protestant people saw Ian and Martin’s friendship as somehow giving in to the IRA. But Martin lost a lot of friends on his side and Ian lost a lot of friends too.

Ian believed your country is the people who live in it and we have to share it. We go into the same shops – you don’t walk in and see somebody with a label saying ‘I’m a Catholic’ or ‘I’m a Protestant’. They’re just people. I think Martin realised he had been misled and had taken a wrong path.

Too close

I do think some people in the party thought they were too close as friends – the friendship was too much for them to take. I don’t know why, because Ian was never opposed to people for their religion.

He would have been opposed to people on both sides for being involved in terrorism – he had no time for that. But I expect some people did think it was too close. Some people in the party and in the church just couldn’t take it. They couldn’t see what Ian saw.

Not everybody sees things the same way. But then maybe they’re not talking to people from across the board – they’re keeping in the same wee clique. It’s like the man who Christ touched his eyes and asked him what did he see, and he said, ‘I see men as trees.’ And he touched him again to make him see clearly.

I think a lot of people need to be touched again. They don’t see others as human beings like themselves, with the same wants, the same anxieties and everything else.

Missing Ian’s company

Martin rang here one day. I think he just missed Ian’s company in Stormont. There wasn’t the same rapport between Peter Robinson and Martin as there was between Ian and Martin. So he phoned one day and asked if it’d be all right if he came to visit. And I said that certainly it would.

So he came up here, saw Ian and they had a very nice chat together. Ian wasn’t too well at that point – though he was not in his last illness at that stage. Martin wasn’t uneasy at all – he came in and I welcomed him and made him some tea or coffee, and they had a great chat.

They talked about a lot of things. They had the country in common, and people in common. And Martin, despite everything else, was a family man. And Ian was a family man, so they had that as well. And I had no difficulty talking to Martin’s sons and daughters and wife – they were very friendly. They were just people to me and I was glad to meet them.

Friendship that was genuine

When Ian died, Martin phoned me. He said, ‘I know the funeral is in your house and strictly private, but I would love to come up and see you. Would that be all right?’ So I said, ‘Yes, Martin, that would be all right – come on up.’

Ian died on Friday 12 September 2014 and Martin came up on Saturday. Ian’s coffin was in the dining room. He came in and saw us and then he went over there and stood over the coffin and bowed his head and said a prayer – he had tears in his eyes. I wouldn’t have turned him away because I knew his friendship was genuine.

He listened to what Ian said – from a spiritual point of view as well. But I think what brought them together was the fact that every day, every morning as soon as they met, Ian prayed with him. There was no particular prayer – Ian would have prayed a practical prayer. Whatever was the problem for that day, they would ask for God’s guidance and His wisdom.

I think Martin saw that he was genuine, that it wasn’t just from the lips out; he was talking to God personally. Ian would stand and pray and Martin would listen.

A niece of mine and her husband were here when Martin called after Ian’s death. I said to them, ‘If you would like to meet with Martin McGuinness, he’s here – I just wanted to let you know.’ So they said they would like to meet him and they did.

Jude Collins’ Martin McGuinness: The Man I Knew is published by Mercier Press and is available now.

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