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Martin McGuinness funeral: Anyone who'd never gone to Mass may have thought applause was standard

By Malachi O'Doherty

The piper leading the coffin of Martin McGuinness into the Long Tower church yesterday played a rebel song, Kelly the Boy from Killane, '...the foremost of all in the grim gap of death'.

For a time this meshed with organ music from inside then changed to something more appropriate, Amazing Grace.

The organ music had included Patrick Kavanagh's Raglan Road, which is said to have been a favourite of Martin McGuinness. That morning, Gerry Adams had posted a link to a rendition by Luke Kelly on Twitter: "For the day that's in it. A song for Martin."

There was no crass celebration of Martin McGuinness's years as a rebel, but there were occasional little reminders, that might almost have been accidental.

His nephew Odhran's reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes was one of these with its reference to "a time for killing, a time for healing".

Even "a time for loving, a time for hating".

The second reading by his son-in-law included the words "I have fought the good fight to the end."

Both lines were picked up by Fr Michael Canny in his homily. These were the lightest of touches in hinting at the life of the warrior and nothing was said to actually endorse the killing years.

Fr Canny started by asking for "thoughts and prayers for the people of London who suffered so grievously in a terrorist attack yesterday evening".

He gave a warm welcome and paid a strong compliment to the people who had opposed Martin McGuinness and come to work with him.

"The presence of those political rivals and opponents among you, who have come to pay their respects this afternoon, your coming is the most eloquent testimony to the memory of Martin McGuinness. So when you seek his monument, YOU - by your presence - are his monument," he said.

Fr Canny wove together images of the homely and personable McGuinness while stating plainly that he had been a senior paramilitary.

"He was a man who ate many formal dinners with endless number of courses but was happiest when eating cabbage and bacon, or a piece of salmon caught by his good friend over on the right here, Jamsie Quinn," he said.

"Martin the Sinn Fein leader who first shared power, then became friends, with the late Dr Ian Paisley; Martin was the IRA commander who became a mainstay of the peace process."

Martin McGuinness was honoured not just as a politician and a peace maker but also as an authentically devout man who appears to have spent a lot of time in the company of clergy.

Fr Canning said: "I, in the course of years, have had many conversations with Martin and he knew only too well how many people struggled with his IRA past.

"He was very aware of it. Republicans were not blameless, and many people right across the community find it difficult to forgive and impossible to forget."

And he had received appreciation from Lord Trimble, among other people.

The Rev David Latimer said he and Martin McGuinness had prayed together.

Harold Good, a former president of the Methodist church, recalled the night before he witnessed the decommissioning of IRA weapons and read Paul's letter to the Ephesians about putting on the "armour of God".

Both men talked of their personal friendships with Martin McGuinness. He had not just enjoyed Jamsie Quinn's salmon, but the mackerel the Rev Good fished for in Ballycastle.

The Rev Good said: "Our paths crossed many times and often he trod the path that came to our home and that is where you make friendship as you share your own fireside."

It was a mass punctuated by rounds of applause.

Anyone who had never been to a Catholic mass might have gone away thinking that this is standard but for the priest coming on to the altar, before the start, after the applause for Bill Clinton's arrival, to ask for reverent silence.

Clinton's speech at the end was laced with humour. He addressed Adams in his intro simply as "Gerry", as if including an old mate. He joked that he doubted the claims that McGuinness and Paisley had got on so well, since his own experience with Paisley was of not being able to get a word in.

But he reserved "a special word of appreciation for First Minister Foster for being here". That got a long applause.

"Because I know, and most people in this church know, that your life has been marked in painful ways by the Troubles," he said.

But his words were not as well pitched as they should have been.

He likened her to Nelson Mandela who had told followers who begrudged his reconciliation efforts that he had spent 27 years in jail and lost the best years of his life and, "... if I can get over it, you can too".

But this is too simplistic while legacy issues remain part of the deadlock in political talks. It's not something Mrs Foster could conceivably say to other victims.

The peace will not be secured by people with grief 'getting over it'. It seems unlikely to be secured by the current talks, given that Gerry Adams has insisted they must finish on Monday and that he will not accept direct rule.

Many there will have been reassured and given hope by the sight of handshakes between people who have been hard on each other, Michelle O'Neill reaching out to Arlene Foster, Gerry Adams shaking hands with Peter Robinson.

Then after the mass, as the funeral proceeded to the city cemetery, the piper stuck up again, this time with Hard Times Come Again No More.

Gerry Adams broadcast that on Periscope. It was a message.

Another from his press man Richard McAuley was a tweet that said Martin would say, "don't mourn - organise".

Hard times may well be coming.

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