Belfast Telegraph

It ended where it all began for Martin McGuinness, as a packed Bogside accompanied him on final journey

By Ivan Little in Londonderry

On a day when symbolism and historic ground-breaking went hand in hand, the normally self-assured Arlene Foster looked nervous and pensive as she took her first tentative steps into what she once might have regarded as the lion's den of Martin McGuinness's Bogside.

But the response from the Catholic faithful at his hilltop Long Tower church near the scene of the Bloody Sunday killings seemed to put her at her ease as the mourners acknowledged a galvanising, unifying gesture of goodwill with not just a round of applause, but also with cheers and a standing ovation.

Even ex-US President Bill Clinton, once the most powerful man in the world, had to settle for a welcome that wasn't quite in the same league of effusive warmth as the one accorded to Mrs Foster, her predecessor Peter Robinson and DUP MLA Simon Hamilton.

More: Martin McGuinness funeral: They came from far and wide... but Arlene Foster made toughest journey

"It wasn't exactly the Rubicon, but there were times in the past that crossing the Foyle was a bridge too far for hardline unionists," said one observer.

The DUP trio had received assurances that there would be no paramilitary trappings for Mr McGuinness, and Mrs Foster sat close to his tricolour-draped coffin and listened to hymns and parts of addresses in Irish before stretching out her hand to greet Sinn Fein's northern leader Michelle O'Neill.

The under-fire ex-First Minister later happily mingled with nationalists and republicans outside the church, even taking time to pose for selfies after a funeral the like of which has rarely been witnessed in Derry - or anywhere else in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Foster's attendance at the Requiem Mass may not have ensured that the ongoing talks to save the Stormont Executive will succeed, but the mood music will undoubtedly have been changed as negotiators get round the table again later today.

Even in death, Mr McGuinness managed the impossible of bolstering the faltering political process he'd built by yesterday bringing together his political foes, Irish President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton and former IRA fighters under the same roof, sometimes just feet apart.

The VIPs made it the closest thing the Bogside had ever seen to a State funeral for a man who has been hailed as a statesman in recent days by a retired senior civil servant.

But much as Mr McGuinness would have enjoyed the inclusiveness of the congregation inside St Columba's Church, the presence of tens of thousands of 'ordinary' Derry people outside it, on the streets of his cherished Bogside, in the town he loved so well, would probably have pleased him more.

All around his home in what was once a republican no-go area the crowds stood six-deep in places to say farewell to the politician who stoutly refused to leave his family home in Westland Terrace. Just after his coffin was brought from the house, to the strains of a slow air played by Chieftains flute player Matt Molloy, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson helped to drape the Irish flag over her friend's coffin, and singer Frances Black sang Raglan Road, one of Mr McGuinness's favourite songs, which was adapted from a Patrick Kavanagh poem.

Mr McGuinness's four children carried their father's coffin up the Terrace and onlookers immediately started to applaud, setting the tone for the entire journey from the Bogside to the Long Tower church.

Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald, Mrs O'Neill and veteran republican Bobby Storey, who appeared to be one of the main stewards at the funeral, bore the coffin past a mural of the Bloody Sunday victims and Free Derry Corner.

Not since Bobby Sands's funeral through west Belfast 36 years ago had there been a show of republican solidarity and sorrow like it.

The city side of Derry came to a standstill with signs going up in many businesses saying they were closing as a mark of respect to Mr McGuinness and to Derry City's captain Ryan McBride, whose Requiem Mass was held in the same church a few hours earlier.

In the Waterside life went on as normal, but a number of Protestant clergymen were at Mr McGuinness's funeral, including his friend the Rev David Latimer from First Derry Presbyterian Church, who told mourners that the Sinn Fein man "has bequeathed to us a better place to live".

Mr Latimer responded to applause by saying thank you in Irish: "Go raibh maith agat."

A number of relatives of IRA victims have denounced praise for Mr McGuinness, saying he never apologised for his actions as an IRA commander linked by the security forces to dozens of murders.

And in his homily yesterday, Father Michael Canny addressed their concerns.

He said he realised from conversations with Mr McGuinness down the years that he knew only too well how many people struggled with his IRA past. He added: "Republicans were not blameless and many people right across the community find it difficult to forgive and impossible to forget."

But the priest, who sent his sympathy to the victims of the London terror attacks on Wednesday, said the former Deputy First Minister had spent years trying to move his community to peace, and added that the monument to his efforts was all around the congregation. "There are people in this church today whose presence would have been unthinkable only a generation ago. They have forged working relationships with Martin McGuinness; they have built friendships with him; they have occupied Stormont's benches alongside him," he said.

"Some have even sat in government with him. You are all very, very welcome. The presence of those political rivals and opponents among you, who have come to pay their respects this afternoon, is the most eloquent testimony to the memory of Martin McGuinness."

Mr Clinton, who had earlier offered his condolences to Mr McGuinness's family inside the church, spoke for 11 minutes during the service and paid tribute to him, and thanked Mrs Foster for coming to the Requiem Mass.

Referring to her escape as a young girl in an IRA bomb attack on her school bus in Fivemiletown and a IRA murder bid on her father, Mr Clinton said: "I know your life has been marked in painful ways by the Troubles."

He also urged the politicians at the funeral to complete Mr McGuinness's work and restore the power-sharing Executive at Stormont.

He said: "If you want to continue his legacy, go and finish the work he has started."

The ex-President tried to lighten the mood by cracking jokes about Mr McGuinness having been 'married' to Mr Adams almost as long as he had been married to his widow Bernie. At one point, however, Mr Clinton laid his hand gently on Mr McGuinness's coffin and recalled how he had "risked the wrath of his comrades and the rejection of his enemies".

A number of observers, notably from English newspapers, said that while Mr Clinton may have been making jocular remarks and hugging Mr Adams, he did not refer to the plight of victims.

At Free Derry Corner, in front of the famous sign on a gable end there, a huge television screen relayed pictures of the service from the church to hundreds of people.

Afterwards Mr McGuinness' remains were taken to the City Cemetery where football hero McBride had been buried just hours earlier.

The fiery speeches about the IRA's campaign that used to be associated with graveside orations for republicans were noticeably absent at Mr McGuinness's committal.

The DUP politicians weren't at the republican plot.

Mr Adams said in his oration that with the passing of Mr McGuinness, his friend of 45 years: "Ireland lost a hero, Derry a son, Sinn Fein lost a leader and his family lost a loving, caring and dedicated father, grandfather, brother and uncle."

He called Mr McGuinness a comrade and said he was a man of compassion and humanity.

He added that Mr McGuinness would not be surprised by some of the things which had been said about him of late.

He added that people were entitled to their opinions "particularly those who had suffered at the hands of the IRA".

He said that his colleague who, "was a good man", couldn't answer back, so he would.

"Martin McGuinness was not a terrorist. Martin McGuinness was a freedom fighter.

"He was also a political prisoner, a negotiator, a peacemaker, a healer.

"But while he had a passion for politics, Martin was not one dimensional.

"He had many interests, especially in nature, in spirituality, and he was famously and hugely interested in people."

The Louth TD said he wanted to issue a plea to unionists.

"Let us learn to like each other, to be friends, to celebrate and enjoy our differences and to do so on the basis of common sense, respect and tolerance for each other and everyone else as equals."

And Mr Adams said nationalists and republicans should do nothing to disrespect their unionist neighbours or anyone else.

"Stand against bigotry. Stand against sectarianism. Respect our unionist neighbours. Reach out to them. Lead as Martin led - by example."

Singer Christy Moore sang a final song at the graveside. His composition The Time Has Come is about the last meeting between a hunger striker and his mother. The song had been played regularly by RTE, but banned it after discovering what the lyrics were about.

It is understood that Mr McGuinness requested that Mr Moore should sing it at the City Cemetery.

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