A Guest at the Funeral of Martin McGuinness

Today I had the sort of day that we all yearn for as travelers.  To be at the right place at exactly the right time, as if I had planned it this way all along.

But plan this I did not.  A month ago when I was pouring over Ireland itinerary options late at night and decided Derry would be a good overnight stopping point on my Ireland tour, how could I have known that the funeral of Martin McGuinness would be taking place the very day I arrived in Derry?

A month ago, I didn’t even know who Martin McGuinness is.  But ever since setting foot in North Ireland three days ago, I’ve been swept up in a real-life history lesson of the complex and heart-wrenching political and religious history of the last century.  And Martin McGuinness is one of the main players, as he was instrumental in the Good Friday Agreement that formalized the Northern Ireland peace process.

McGuinness’ illness came on strong, and he died quickly.  It was only early this year that he retired from his passionate and controversial political career, due to deteriorating health.  McGuinness, a member of the Sinn Féin political party, and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland for a decade, much of his controversy is tied to his work as a former Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader.  He began his political career in his hometown of Derry.

The Good Friday Agreement took place in 1998, and Belfast has since become one of the more bustling tourist hubs in the UK.  But the sectarian politics are still tangible, living breathing parts of this region, from little things like how to refer to the city of Derry (I was chastised for calling it Londonderry once, even though this is what is on Google Maps and street signs), and big things like the graffiti and intimidating street art everywhere you go.

So that sums up my last three days of learning.  And then here I find myself, stepping off a bus in the heart of historic Derry, as Bill Clinton is speaking to a funeral service for Martin McGuinness in the hills just above me.  I dropped my bags off at my lovely Air BnB, googled information about the burial, and starting walking in the direction of the cemetery.  From the beautifully preserved city walls, I could see down into a clearing, where small groups of people were gathering.  I walked closer I saw the funeral service showing on a large screen, strategically set up in front of an important historical landmark, a large sign that reads “You are now entering Free Derry”.

The funeral procession started minutes after I arrived.  The sound of bagpipes tipped me off.

Hundreds of people started gathering along the street to watch the procession.

Watching it arrive in a sea of thousands of people was emotional, and even more emotional still, to see the casket walked under the street art representing the political work that McGuinness had dedicated his life to.

After the casket passed, some people turned and headed home.  But I couldn’t.  I took this as an important opportunity to continue to learn this special culture and the people that are a part of it.

Being a part of a mourning process is such a personal moment, and it was such a gift to be there in that moment, on this incredibly historical day.

The walk to the cemetery was long, up a wide, steep road.  People lined the road, as did the street art of the people.

Reporters were everywhere, and residents of the apartments along the road watched curiously from their windows and balconies.

Arriving at the cemetery was breathtaking.  What a beautiful resting place, looking out over Derry and the river that divides it.

Another small service was given at the cemetery, much of which I missed in order to meet my Airbnb host.

Walking back down the hill alone was peaceful, a stark contrast from our trip up to hill with the thousands of other mourners.

I am grateful for the coincidences, and/or the powers that be, that brought me here today.

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14 responses to “A Guest at the Funeral of Martin McGuinness

  1. Hello Peggy!
    What a special day you have shared with us. I must admit I hadn’t heard of Martin either, nor did I remember Londonderry was now just Derry! Duly noted. Thank you for the images and the little history lesson. I hope many more or as many as you can find time for, will be shared here.
    Enjoy your time there. 🌸Di

    • Oh, thank you Di! I am so bad with reading the newspaper (a guilty secret I have), and I get most of my news and history when I travel. So I get it! :)) I think the politically correct way to refer to the city is Derry-Londonderry. But of course, in conversation, people select one or the other. And then that becomes a bit political…;) Thanks so much for reading…

      • Hello Peggy!
        Thank you for your lovely reply.
        I used to be an avid news reader but lately… no news is good news in my mind now.
        Learning as you travel is the ultimate…
        Yes, that full name would be a mouthful for sure.
        I’d love to discover where you are now. I should check Insta but I’m winding back a little on that at the moment.
        Take care and hear from you here or over there 🙋💜

  2. What serendipity that you happened to be there just at the right moment! For one, I’m very grateful you were — and that you wrote about it — because you’ve made my world bigger through this post. Thank you so much for sharing your extraordinary experience.

    • That’s the best comment one could hope for. Thank you for your beautiful words, Heide! I really appreciate them. It was very serendipitous, wasn’t it? I’m so glad you enjoyed the post…

    • You always hit the nail on the head, Eliza! They are handsome! It is quite fun to be here for that reason, ha! 😉 Yes, Bill helped with the Good Friday agreement…he actually went to the signing of the agreement in 1998. Thanks for your thoughts, Eliza, as always! :)) It has been a crazy period of travel and haven’t been as attentive as I’d like to be (a familiar story I suppose!). I can’t complain, though. I’ve seen a lot of amazing things these past few weeks. Hope you are well and enjoying the arrival of spring! 🙂

      • Ha! Great. :)) I mean, not great. I wish the weather was already gorgeous in North Hampton for you. I’m sure it will be soon (crossing my fingers!). But I appreciation the understanding, Eliza! :))

  3. What an amazing experience! Thank you so much for sharing Peggy. I bet it was pretty fascinating to be there at that time or for that event. We used to always host children from Northern Ireland in the 80s for the summer. I have never been to Belfast and am very keen to visit.

    • Did you Nicole? That’s so interesting! A what a time in their history – the 80s were at the height of the troubles it seems. You should definitely go to Belfast. There is so much going on culturally, and the tourism office is very integrated so it is easy to find out about what’s happening. Easy to get around the city too. Very fun.

      • I would love to go there Peggy. We want to eventually bring our kids to Europe but I still am not sure which places to see. Costa Rica was perfect as there was so much adventure activities for the kids. I think they would get bored with sightseeing and museums at this age (10 and 12). We are thinking of possibly doing one big city and then hiking somewhere. Just not sure yet. Any ideas? I have heard the isle of Skye is amazing. See just got home and trying to plan next trip!

      • Yes, I hear you! That type of trip can get old. All the castles along the River Rhine in Germany are so fascinating, though. I remember loving them as a kid. There is incredible hiking and exploring, mixed with awesome Austrian/Italian culture in the Italian Alps (Dolomiti), and Sicily is always an adventure. :))

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