Up Close and Personal - Our Final Interview With Martin McGuinness

In 2011, Jason O’Toole carried out an interview with Martin McGuinness that was never published. Here, we draw on that interview, as well others conducted for Hot Press, to paint a fascinating picture of the late leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, in all of his complications.

Walking home late one evening in the early 1970s, Martin McGuinness noticed a silhouette hovering under the lamppost at the foot of his street in the Bogside. He was initially apprehensive. When he realised it was his Donegal-born mother, Peggy, he smiled. The grin soon vanished from Martin’s baby-face.

Without uttering a word, Peggy took his military Sam Browne belt and IRA beret out of her apron pocket. She had discovered them earlier that day under his mattress. Peggy belted him up the road to the family’s home, as she pleaded with him to stay away from the armed struggle. “She was very worried and annoyed,” Martin said.

But the future IRA leader went on to break his mother’s heart again – and again. In his tribute to Martin McGuinness, when the former IRA leader’s death was announced on March 21, Gerry Adams observed that Martin McGuinness didn’t go to war – war came to him. “I would rather have lived an ordinary life. I didn’t choose this life,” McGuinness himself insisted. But that he ended up with a gun in his hand is not in dispute.

In the long run, Martin McGuinness may well be seen as one of the most influential figures in Irish history. He made the extraordinary journey from gunman – freedom fighter or terrorist, depending on your political leanings – to peacemaker.

Martin McGuinness

Martin ultimately opted for a 9mm Browning pistol over a set of rosary beads. But there was a strongly religious aspect to his upbringing. Born on 23 May, 1950, he was christened James Martin Pacelli McGuinness. Pacelli was the surname of the then Pope, Pius XII. According to the former Hot Press columnist, Nell McCafferty, who grew up only a stone’s throw from him, Martin’s neighbours once thought that the cherubic young boy had the “makings of a priest.”

One of seven children, Martin grew up in a tiny council home – with an outside toilet – on Elmwood Street. It was only 50 yards from Celtic Park, the home of Derry GAA. Martin’s brother Tom would go on to represent his county – reaching two All-Ireland semi-finals – and winning an All-Ireland medal at Under-21 level.

“There were seven of us – six boys and one girl. We lived in a two- bedroom house. It had a kitchen the size of your downstairs toilet! It was an alcove really,” Martin told me back in 2011, when I spoke to him during the presidential election. “How my mother and father coped rearing seven of us on the wage he earned was absolutely incredible. He was a foundry worker; he was a foreman there.

“But my mother was a very innovative person, someone who could turn her hand to anything to in terms of making clothes and darning socks and all the rest of it. It was a very humble upbringing.”

STREET FIGHTING MAN

Martin McGuinness’s parents were staunch Mass-goers and the family came together every night to say a decade of the rosary. Indeed, he never abandoned his Catholicism. But he did see it in a wider context.

“I am a practising Catholic,” he said, during one of our in-depth interviews. “I also believe that if I had been born on the Shankill Road, I’d probably have been a practising Protestant. Or if I had have been born in India, I would have been a practising supporter of Buddhism. Or if I was born in the southern states of America, I might have been a Mormon. I actually have a very broadminded view of religion.”

His father instilled respect in him for other religious beliefs. “My father died in 1973. He went to mass and communion every day of his life. But he was one of the most broadminded people I ever met. His closest friend was a fellow worker – he was a Protestant – and the two of them were like brothers. There wasn’t a sectarian bone in his body. Their friendship had a very big impact on me.”

Martin was adamant that all religions should be considered equal. “We were brought up to respect everybody’s religion,” he said. “And to respect those who don’t believe in anything. I have to say that I respect all of them. There are times I sit in Protestant churches for different events that I am invited to, and I feel as comfortable in a Protestant church, or Church of Ireland, or Methodist church, as I would in a Catholic church.”

In some ways, I was astonished with what he said next. “I haven’t got a sectarian bone in my body,” he stated.

When I said that many Protestants in Northern Ireland might assume differently, McGuinness insisted that he never held any animosity towards the Protestant community. It was the British establishment and army at which he directed the telescope of his ire.

“I was 18 years of age when the conflict broke out on the streets of Derry,” he recalled. “People of my generation went through a very traumatic period when the city we were born in was turned upside down – with people being murdered on the streets by the British army.

“In many ways, the situation in Derry was different to the situation in an awful lot of other places,” he insisted, “because in Derry it was a street conflict between the British army and the IRA. I was involved in standing up to the British Army and battling with them on our streets.” He had no apology to offer for his decision to become an IRA man.

“The thing people in Dublin have to ask themselves is, if they happened to be 18 years of age on the streets of Derry and saw people murdered by the British army, what would they do? Some of them would not become involved in the IRA, but no doubt a large percentage of them would.”

DEATH OF A FATHER

Martin McGuinness dropped out of school at 15 and went to work as an apprentice butcher. He was in his late teens when he originally joined the Official IRA, but soon switched to the Provos when he realised the differences between their ideologies. The sinister moniker he was given, The Butcher of the Bogside, derived from the fact that he used to carve up dead carcasses for a living.

When the British Army introduced Operation Demetrius – a mass arrest and imprisonment without trial of suspected IRA members – in the summer of 1971, Martin was already a leading local player in the Derry Brigade of the IRA. He was tipped off about the planned raids on IRA members’ homes and did a disappearing act.

It would be a long time before he would spend a night in the family house again. It happened in 2008, when his 84-year-old mother was discharged from hospital with an inoperable brain tumour. He, along with his siblings, would take turns sleeping over with their dying mother. “I slept on the sofa and I reflected that it was the first time I had slept back in my old house since the 9th of August 1971 when internment was introduced,” he told me, shaking his head.

Until she fell ill, his mother would read the Irish Times every day. How did she feel, seeing her beloved son being depicted in the media as a cruel and sadistic monster?

“She never believed a word of it. She knew the sort of a person that I was. She knew that some of the stories were a total misrepresentation of the reality of what happened.”

While internment was in operation, Martin would occasionally sneak in through the back garden to visit his parents. On seeing his son approach, Martin’s father would quip to Peggy: “Here comes Patrick Pearse!” I asked if his father – who took part in the civil rights marches – was against him joining the IRA.

“He was very philosophical about it,” Martin said. “Obviously, his concern was for the safety of his son. And he knew I was taking a big risk.”

McGuinness was second-in-command of the Provisional IRA in Derry – it is the only position he admitted to ever holding – during the Bloody Sunday massacre, which saw 14 innocent civil rights marchers butchered by British Army paratroopers. The British authorities attempted to whitewash the slaughter by making the unsubstantiated claim that McGuinness had fired the first shot, sparking off what was indiscriminate shooting on the part of the British troops. It was a lie: all eyewitness accounts vigorously rejected the British Army version of events.

Questioned about this allegation, during the course of a Hot Press interview, McGuinness was adamant that it was – in his language – a cock and bull story. “Nobody in Derry is under any illusions about what happened,” he said. “14 people were murdered, and 13 or 14 others were very badly wounded.”

In July 1972, Martin was one of a delegation of a half-dozen republican and IRA representatives – which included Gerry Adams – who went over to London for ultimately failed secret peace talks with the Northern Ireland secretary of state, William Whitelaw.

He was still on the run in 1973 when his father became sick and died suddenly. “It was heartbreaking,” he told me. “At the time, my mother was worried sick because of my father’s deteriorating health. I was determined to go to the hospital and even to face the prospect of arrest, but my family told me if I did that it would have a very bad effect on my mother – that she may even take a heart attack and die. So, I was very badly torn.”

When his father died, the family decided to hold the funeral of his Northern-Irish born father at the church in Donegal in which he and Peggy had married. “So, we met the cortège on the Derry/Donegal boarder,” he explained.

Did Martin have any regrets about not being able to say goodbye to his father? “Absolutely,” he said. “But I had seen him. The period I was released from military detention and him dying was a very short period. I had seen him a couple of times, but I never felt for one minute that he was in imminent danger of death.”

Martin fell silent for a moment. “He became ill and was dead within a day or two,” he said. “He had an enlarged heart and died very quickly. He was 60. It was very young. It was a sore blow. It was very difficult. I have very fond memories of him.”

ANATOMY OF A MARRIAGE

Martin McGuinness was arrested in 1973, when the Gardaí discovered him beside a car containing 250lb of explosives and nearly 5,000 rounds of ammunition. As an IRA man, he refused to recognise the jury-less Special Criminal Court in Dublin. “We have fought against the killing of our people… I am a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and very, very proud of it,” he said.

He was given a six-month sentence for IRA membership. Now based in Dublin, his near neighbour in the Bogside, Nell McCafferty, was in court as a reporter for The Irish Times. Immediately afterwards, she phoned Martin’s mother. “She gave me – someone who had never shopped for a man – a list of underclothes Martin would need, complete with sizes, and the sizes also of jumpers for him. He favoured big woolly jumpers,” Nell wrote in the Irish Daily Mail. “Peggy also climbed scaffolding at the Guildhall, which the IRA had just bombed, demanding her son’s release.” In all, Martin was imprisoned twice.

“I spent a lot of time in interrogation centres,” he said, “and I was in prison. I was in Mountjoy prison, I was in The Glasshouse in the Curragh, I was in Portlaoise, I was in Crumlin Road. The only prison I wasn’t in was Long Kesh. The first time I was in prison I got six months; the second time it was a year. Now, I was consistently arrested by the RUC’s Special Branch in the North and brought for interrogation to Castlereigh, and sometimes released after a full seven days, and brought back a week later for another seven days. And obviously, during all that time, I was able to keep my mouth shut!”

How did he manage that?

“Whatever was thrown at me, whatever abuse was offered, I sat there and that was it. So, I didn’t spend a lengthy period in prison. But that doesn’t prove anything. Absolutely nothing,” he beamed, laughing. “It proves that I was well able to handle the interrogations, and there were many of them over a course of a number of years.”

After his release from prison in November 1974, Martin married Bernie Canning, with whom he would have four children. They’d gone on their first date together when Martin was 21. It had been set-up through a mutual friend, Colm Keenan. On March 14, 1975, a few months after the nuptials, Keenan and another IRA member, Eugene McGillan, were murdered by the British Army.

Martin occasionally got drunk during his teenager years, but he was a non-drinker at the time of their first date in The Bogside Inn. As he would say himself, loose lips sink ships! “I was a non-drinker, but I just went for the craic and the date. And it took off from there,” he recalled.

“I had seen Bernie previously at different events. Obviously, I was attracted to her but when you’re that age,” he paused to laugh and shrugged, “you’re attracted to many young women. But there was a special bond between us. I had a sense from the very beginning – and I think she had too – that we were going to be together for the rest of our lives.”

He proposed to her in dramatic circumstances. Bernie had been arrested and imprisoned in Armagh Prison. And while she was incarcerated, Martin had a friend go and visit her. “He put the ring on her finger on my behalf in prison,” Martin recalled.

Bernie was not convicted of any crime and was duly released. Martin himself was then released on November 11, 1974 and the lovebirds married nine days later. “We got married in Cockhill Chapel in County Donegal – the same chapel where my parents were married and both are buried,” he said. “We travelled the length and breath of Ireland for our honeymoon. We were in Dublin, Sligo, Limerick, Galway. We had two fantastic weeks in our own country.”

The Troubles put a huge strain on the marriage. “It was very difficult. In the early days,” Martin recalled, “our home was raided regularly by the British Army and the RUC and she was put under intolerable pressure – but she came through it all.

“She’s a very strong person. I have a huge admiration for her. I think the world of her. What she has done, raising our family under tremendous pressure, has been extraordinary.”

The couple remained married for 42 years. “How we managed to do that against the backdrop of the circumstances we had to deal with is a bit of a phenomenon. But we’ve survived,” he said.

THE WAR MUST GO ON

Martin McGuinness insisted that he walked away from vicious cycle of violence as far back as 1974. But the IRA had a mantra: “Once in, never out” – and even the dogs in the street knew that he was first Northern commander of the IRA in 1977, after a revolt against the southern leadership. He was the IRA’s chief of staff from 1978 until he was elected to the Northern Assembly in 1982. He stepped down – albeit reluctantly, well-informed sources have told me – because the IRA Army Council bridled at the thought of their commander holding a seat at Stormont. But intelligence sources insist that he rejoined the IRA in 1983.

During one interview, I tried to get the truth about all of this from him. Isn’t your denial of IRA membership post-1974, I asked, simply because such an admission could effectively see you facing criminal charges and open you up to being sued by victims of the Troubles? “You’re into a legal quagmire there in terms of who could or who couldn’t sue you. But it is strange that, if people admitted they were members of the IRA, they could be arrested.”

But isn’t that true with you? I asked.

“No, it’s not true with me. I have made it absolutely clear that I have never distanced myself from the IRA. And I’ve made it clear that I engaged with the IRA. I mean, some people are a bit surprised whenever I remind them that the first election I stood in was 1982, which is 30 years ago next year.”

I told him that his denials seemed unbelievable.

“But is that based on newspapers articles written by journalists or tittle-tattle? I was arrested in 1976 by the RUC, on the basis of stories journalists had written in the newspapers – that’s what was offered as evidence. It was ridiculous. And the judge threw it out of court.”

Can you understand why people see your denials as silly?

‘I don’t think they do. I stand in a very proud Irish constituency and have been returned at each election since 1997 with an increased majority.

This is made up of very proud people of South Derry and East Tyrone. And so they understand my past, but, more importantly, they understand the work I have done in assisting the process of bringing peace to the North so that they and their families can live normal lives and move about without fear.”

I repeated a quote of his from 1986 to him. “Our position is clear and it will never, never change,” he had said then. “The war against the British must continue until freedom is achieved…” That sounds like an IRA man speaking.

“I think you can read it two ways. I was speaking as a member of Sinn Féin,” he insisted. “I was elected in 1982. But in the course of the ‘70s and ‘80s many things where said by many people. I can’t remember every single quote that’s attributed to me.”

VICIOUS CYCLE OF INJUSTICE

I have little doubt that Martin McGuinness would have admitted to being an IRA member post-1974 if it hadn’t been illegal for him to do so. I also believe he was uncomfortable dodging the bullet on this question.

“It’s a bit of an anomaly, in my view,” he told me, “that people can still be arrested for things that they would be accused of happening way back 30/40 years ago. The difficulty with it is that the only people who seem to be arrested are republicans. We don’t see too many members of the British Army or the old RUC arrested.”

Martin also admitted to me that he assumed his life would be a short one: that he too would become a martyr to the republican cause.

“To be honest, I thought I would’ve died by the time I was 25,” he said. “Many of my friends lost their lives because of the conflict. On a number of occasions I came very close to losing my life. I don’t intend to go into the details of it. Suffice to say, it wasn’t for the want of trying on the part of the British Army. Particularly in the early days.”

Martin McGuinness

His wife Bernie was the official breadwinner during the ‘70s, as she toiled away in a café, where she worked for 20 years before purchasing it outright. Having been elected to the Northern Assembly in 1982, he failed get elected to Westminster in 1983, 1987 and 1992. He was elected an MP in 1997 and, despite abstaining, held onto the seat until 2012 when Sinn Féin disallowed the dual mandate. It was towards the end of the 1980s that McGuinness started to get his head round the idea of peace talks. “There was an acceptance by the British Army that they could not militarily defeat the IRA,” he remembers. “That, in turn, posed a huge question for Irish republicans. Did the IRA have the military capability of defeating the British Army? And if you answered ‘no’ to both those questions, that leads you into what I consider to be a vicious cycle of injustice, discrimination, inequality, domination, violence and death.

“So, my thought processes and others – including Gerry Adams – turned to, ‘How can this vicious cycle be broken in a way that would see negotiations take place?’ So, we were involved in discussions amongst ourselves about how we could bring that about. It took until 1994.”

Almost as an afterthought, he added: “Of course, in the run up to that we were engaging with the IRA – trying to convince the IRA that they should call a ceasefire.”

DID HE HAVE BLOOD ON HIS HANDS?

During the height of the troubles, Martin McGuinness was banned from entering Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. At the time, he was described by unionists as the “IRA godfather of godfathers”. Reacting to this title, he told Hot Press:”It sounds like someone who absolutely believes in demonising Irish republicanism. I don’t know where the quote came from – but it probably came from some leading unionist politician.” At the time, he famously said, “My war is over.”

One of the most unsavoury allegations to surface about McGuinness was that he lured an IRA member to his death. In 1986, Frank Hegarty – who’d left the North after it was rumbled that he was working as an informer for British intelligence – was shot dead on his return home. It was widely believed that McGuinness had a phone conversation with and reassured him, “It’s okay to come home, nothing will happen to you.”

“No. It never happened,” he told me.

I pressed him: did you kneel down beside his mother and reassure her – as she claimed in an interview before her death – that nothing would happen to her son?

“It never happened. The only person I would kneel to, if I had the opportunity, was my wife to hand her an engagement ring,” he said. “I’ll tell you what I did: at the time Frank Hegarty disappeared, reports came back through his family that he was claiming that he was kidnapped by British intelligence. I was made aware of this. I was an elected representative for a number of years previously, so I was seen as a leading figure within Sinn Fein.

“I spoke to the family. What is being attributed to me never happened. I’m not going to go into the details of how I could rebut what was said because to do so, I think, would be hurtful to a family who have already suffered enough. But I can assure you that what’s being put forward as a representation of what happened is a total misrepresentation.”

Since his death, many commentators have pointed out that McGuinness never once expressed any repentance for his own violent deeds. In one interview, I pushed him hard. You said you’ve never killed anybody: are you saying, then, that you’ve no blood on your hands?

“I’ve never distanced myself from the IRA,” he responded. “I’m not saying that we escape from all of this scot-free.”

Did he accept, metaphorically speaking, that he’d blood on his hands? He seemed to be saying yes.

“Well, it depends,” he started, “on what sort of a headline you’re going to…”

I interrupted him. “I’m not looking for a headline: I’m trying to get into your soul.”

It sounds grandiose now, but it was what I felt at the time: I wanted to get beyond the cliches. He responded with the official line about Derry being besieged by British paratroopers and that it was a street war. “I see very little difference between what I did,” he added, “and what Eamon De Valera and Michael Collins did, and indeed many others.”

So, was he saying that he accepts responsibility for what happened when he was second in command in Derry?

“I accept that as a member of the IRA, I’m not in a position to say that I have no responsibility for what happened during the time when I was a member of the IRA. I can’t distance myself from that. I would not under any circumstances distance myself from that.”

I asked him, did he not feel guilty at all?

“I didn’t feel any conscience problems,” he answered, “about standing up to the British Army and battling with them on the streets of Derry.”

And what about the innocent people who died during the Troubles?

“There were many things that the IRA done which were terribly wrong. And which I could not give any support to. Everything that happened was terrible and an awful lot of people suffered and lost their lives. There was nothing romantic about what happened. I lost close friends of mine. Members of the British Army lost their lives. Members of the military forces that were supporting the British Army lost their lives. And many innocent civilians lost their lives. There’s absolutely nothing glorious about conflict and war.”

THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC

Martin McGuinness went on to become Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator in the 1990s and helped secure the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and, ultimately, the St Andrew’s Agreement, which led to power-sharing in 2007. He built up a strong rapport with the then British PM Tony Blair, whose mother also happened to be from Donegal.

“I have to give credit to Tony Blair for being the first British Prime Minister to do the right thing by Ireland,” he said.

McGuinness once insisted to Hot Press that even though the Good Friday Agreement was a “compromise”, the IRA were “not defeated.” He believed Ireland was on a “countdown” to eventually be united.

In 1999, McGuinness took up his first major role in the Northern Ireland Assembly as Minister of Education – which was funny considering he failed his 11-plus exams and dropped out of school at 15 without any qualifications. It must’ve given him some satisfaction to scrap the 11-plus exams.

When McGuinness took up his first ministerial position in 1999, he didn’t have a suit to wear on his first day. On the night before he walked into Stormont for that historic occasion, his mother Peggy was frantically altering a pair of trousers and a suit jacket that belonged to one of his brothers. Peggy proudly watched the event unfold the next day on TV with her friend, Lily McCafferty (mother of Nell).

“Ah, mother of God! Lily, I let one hem down longer than the other,” Peggy moaned.

“My mother laughed,” Nell reminisced recently.

McGuinness had held secrets talks with an MI6 agent on several occasions prior to the lead-up to the 1994 ceasefire – and in 2006, bizarre allegations emerged that McGuinness was a British spy.

“Obviously it really annoyed me and my family,” he told Hot Press. “That said, most of my friends just regarded it as typical – I think I described it as ‘hooey’ at the time, which it clearly was. But, I mean, the allegations were rubbish – total and absolute, confounded rubbish. And the vast majority of people, I think, understood that.”

He also believed the spy allegation was made to endanger his life. “I don’t have any doubt that this was a militant force within British intelligence, or someone who had previous connections to British intelligence, who – with whatever information they had – added up two and two and got nine. But I was always conscious that my role within the leadership of Irish republicanism would be a very dangerous role to play.”

The power sharing agreement with the unionists was also the first time McGuinness had ever uttered a single word to his long-time political foe, the Rev. Ian Paisley Snr. To everyone’s surprise, the two men – soon dubbed the chuckle brothers – learnt to begrudgingly respect and admire one another. McGuinness hated being described as a chuckle brother. “I think it was Danny Kennedy of the Ulster Unionist Party who coined that phrase,” he once told Olaf Tyaransen. “It was done to score a political point or to demean us.”

Martin McGuinness

“All of the meetings I have had with Ian Paisley have been very cordial, very courteous, very positive, and very constructive. So, you have to take people as you find them,” he told me back in 2007, a few weeks after he took up office.

Despite his reputation as a feared IRA man, up close and personal, McGuinness was an affable character: it was difficult to conceive that such a quiet, laid-back, jovial grandfather played a central role in the IRA’s bloody campaign.

He was in playful mood when we were first introduced at the door of his gargantuan office in Stormont. As we shook hands, the Deputy First Minister insisted that I hum a few bars of a song. “Hum ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Otherwise I won’t let Hot Press into my office,” he cajoled. As I declined to make a spectacle of myself, in front of his half-dozen aides who were congregating at the door to see a ‘Free Stater’ humming out of tune, McGuinness revealed to me that that he was passionate about music and how he used to enjoy reading Hot Press.

“I love ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. My favourite tune – not because some people say I looked, when I was younger, like Art Garfunkel. I have a lot of friends who thought that,” he laughed. “I like Mozart. I like a wide range of music. I love to hear music from all parts of the world. Traditional Irish music, the odd pop song. I like Snow Patrol. I like Mary Black and Frances Black, Christy Moore, Planxty, Hothouse Flowers. You thought I knew nothing about all these people.”

I mentioned to him that Nadine Coyle of Girls Aloud once mentioned to me that she dated one of his sons. “I’ve met Nadine on a number of occasions and she was friendly with my son Emmet. It’s obviously fantastic to see how well she’s done in her career,” he said.

“I came into the house one night and she was sitting in the front room with my son and a number of their friends. They weren’t there on their own – my wife was in the other room, so it was all very carefully managed! She’s a lovely girl and really down to earth. She always was a fabulous singer. We’re very proud of Nadine.”

OF HEAVEN AND HELL

His Wikipedia profile classifies Martin McGuinness as a Pioneer. “That’s wrong,” he said. “I don’t consider myself a Pioneer. Every now and again I would take a glass of red wine with a meal. But that would be it. It doesn’t happen that often. I don’t go to the pub. I don’t drink beer. I’m not critical of anybody who does, it’s just I would prefer to be in my own house with a cup of tea watching The Sunday Game.”

“I did drink in the early days,” he added. “But the situation in Derry was so serious, in 1972, I took a decision that I would cease drinking. I’ve never really regretted it.”

McGuinness also professed a hatred for TV soaps and said he liked to unwind by watching documentaries; he loved GAA; had a lifelong affinity with Derry City; and was a supporter of Manchester United since he was eight, the year of the Munich Air Crash. “A number of Irish players were playing for the team,” he said.

His favourite pastime was to fish in the dark. “But don’t read any alternative motive in that!” he quipped. “It’s because it’s the best time to catch sea trout. Sea trout have magnificent eyesight and if you use the tiniest of flies with a little hint of silver on it, you’ve a far better chance of catching sea trout at night than during the day.” He detested being away from home. “I’d think nothing of finishing up in Dublin at 11 o’clock at night and going home to Derry,” he said, “and getting up the next morning at 5.30am and going to Belfast. Friends of mine said I should’ve had an apartment in Belfast, but I said no. I went home every day.”

Listening back to one of my taped interviews with him, a shiver ran down my spine when I came across this question: do you believe in heaven and hell?

He may have described himself as a Catholic, but Martin thought long and hard before answering. “That is a difficult question. I don’t have the answer,” he told me. “I don’t believe there’s a heaven, and I don’t believe there’s a hell. I don’t know what’s out there. I would like to think that there is some place where people go, where they will be happy.”

He paused. “But I would hate to think that there are people out there who would be condemned to an eternity of suffering and torture and abuse,” he added. “I don’t think that the God that I believe in believes in that type of punishment. I think that I have an open mind about all of this.” Was Martin McGuinness really saying that he hoped that whatever unspeakable things he might have done would not prevent him from entering through the pearly gates, if there is indeed a heaven? We can only speculate. And besides, that’s a very big if.

 

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