An eerie silence in the city of Derry as Martin McGuinness is laid to rest

Matt Britton


Matt Britton


An eerie silence in the city of Derry as Martin McGuinness is laid to rest

Huge crowds line the streets as Martin McGuinness's remains make their way to St Columba's Church. Photo Matt Britton.

There was an eerie silence in the city of Derry in the early hours of Thursday morning last as thousands of people from every corner of the country and far beyond converged on the city to bid farewell to a “friend, leader, comrade and inspiration”.

There was a stillness in the air as a piper playing “Amazing Grace”, led the funeral cortege along the streets of the Bogside to St. Columba’s Church which had already hosted two funerals earlier in the morning.

Many made their way to the McGuinness home in the Bogside simply to stand in dignified silence paying their last respect to a man they all regarded as one of their own.

His remains were carried from his home in the heart of the Bogside, down Westland Street, where the past loomed on murals of Sands and Mandela and hunger strikers, past a pole with a faded poster demanding “Brits out now IRA”, beneath a tattered flag.

The cortege continued around Free Derry corner, where the ghosts of Bloody Sunday serve to remind of how once strife had prevailed but more importantly just how far everybody has come. Along the route dignified applause rose and fell as they carried his body along, all the way up to the Long Tower church, inside which the likes of Bill Clinton, Enda Kenny, Michael D Higgins, Mary McAleese, Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen, Arlene Foster and Peter Robinson had gathered. Leaders past and present were sitting there patiently for a man, even in death, who had brought a lasting legacy of peace to the maiden city.

This was not a day for political flag waving or recriminations - this was a day when the people of Derry and indeed Ireland said goodbye to a man they all really did “love so well”. Outside the church they stood in silence with many grown up men and women visibly shedding tears.

Among them was John Hume, refusing to allow ill heath keep him from saluting a man who had taken a very different path to his.                                                                                             

When McGuinness had been a teenager, Hume had been asked to persuade him not to go the way of the gun, but McGuinness paid Hume no heed and went in his own direction.Hume’s presence was also a reminder that initial the path followed by McGuinness was not the only route to fight the injustices of a sectarian state. This path to peace was indeed fully embraced by McGuinness as one who succeeded in taking the gun out of politics with many of his comrades. Paying tribute to the late McGuinness, former President Bill Clinton said,  "He persevered and he prevailed. He risked the wrath of his comrades and the rejection of his adversaries.                                                                                                      

"He made honourable compromises and was strong enough to keep them and came to be trusted because his word was good. "And he never stopped being who he was. A good husband, a good father, a follower of the faith of his father and mother and a passionate believer in a free, secure, self-governing Ireland.”

Clinton also paid tribute to Taoiseach Enda Kenny for the impact he had made in Washington last week when he spoke out on immigration. The former president also thanked DUP leader Arlene Foster, who received a standing ovation from the congregation for her attendance and urged all politicians to finish the work of creating a lasting peace.              

“We must finish Martin’s work,” he said.                                                                            

Rev David Latimer, who was one of Martin’s closest friends,  spoke with genuine affection about the Martin McGuinness who he regarded as a dear friend. "At some point in future I'm looking forward ... to praising God with him in Heaven," he said - with a cleric's assurance in his own afterlife.                                                         

Speaking to the Democrat he said that even in death Martin McGuinness had helped bolster the peace process by bringing old foes together under the one roof. I told Arlene Foster “Look around, we are all here together under the same roof today - there is no difference, we are all the same. Lets us now stay under that same roof and work together for a lasting peace.”