Former IRA & Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness dies aged 66

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“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone will yet swell the chorus, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Abraham Lincoln

My grandfather always used to remind me, his youngest grandson who was ever eager to prove myself by being ready to fight for “what’s right”, to remember this: “Blessed be the Peacemakers.”

I never understood what he really meant until after he died. During his formative years he was a flight engineer in HM Royal Airforce. He served 36 bombing missions during World War Two. My earliest memory is of him daydreaming, and me as a very young boy tugging his trouser leg. He started, jumping at my touch, and I recoiled. He had tears in his eyes and said

“I’m sorry my boy, I was having a nightmare. The flak, we were flying through the flak, and then through my friends, we flew through them too after they had been blown to smithereens. And this hand, do you see this hand boy? This hand has killed literally thousands of people. Men, Women, children. The Young & the old. I killed them by the thousand, raining death from the sky. War is a terrible thing. It is caused by change. Whenever there is change, there will be blood. Always remeber that, boy. Oceans of blood and countless lives were lost for the peace we enjoy today.”

I never forgot that.

I always assumed that he hated the Germans, but in my teens I learned that wasn’t so. He hated totalitarianism vehemently. But he was forgiving to the Germans. “They fought, just as I fought” was what he said.

I learned about this when he told me of a holiday he had once in Spain in the 60s, where he and my grandmother struck up a friendship with a holidaying German couple. They became so friendly that my grandparents invited them to visit their little cottage in South Wales, which they did – much to the consternation of many of the locals.

But my grandfather was unperturbed – “Blessed be the Peacemakers.”

The above photo of HM the Queen & Martin McGuiness reminds me of that lesson from my Grandfather. I am not a Christian, but what I see here is a picture of two Christians forgiving each other. Forgiveness isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It took a great deal of strength from a great many people to get those two figures in that room, shaking hands.

My political hero is Mo Mowlam, hands down. That woman was formidable in the extreme. Many will say it was Bill Clinton, or even Tony Blair, that forged the Northern Ireland Peace process – but those who know best will say it was Mowlam & McGuinness that brought that peace to pass. Before Mowlam, the only people in the UK political class who would give the republican Irish the time of day were people like Jeremy Corbyn & John McDonnell. It was their channels of communication, their ongoing conversations, that laid the foundation of what Mowlam achieved.

Politics is filled with hard facts, here are two of them :

  1. You don’t make peace with your friends, but with your enemies.

2. Silence fosters resentment & ignorance – so you can’t make peace without talking.

The victims of the IRA in Manchester, and the victims of the British State in Londonderry are silent today. Their voices will never be heard again. That is our failure. That is what happens when peaceful politics fails, when fear, terror and aggression replace law, order & justice.

All those who would criticise McGuinness today should remember – in the end, he made peace. He took & shook the hand of Her Majesty the Queen of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland & Wales. They became good Christian neighbours, keeping peace with each other.

I am no Christian – but Christianity’s greatest gift is Forgiveness. If we are to keep the peace our dead have paid for with their blood, we must, all of us, learn to forgive, though we may not permit ourselves to forget – as those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it, in all its bloodshed and anguish.