In these winter months, we must find our amusements where we can. And like many people I was amused to learn recently that the ‘Martin McGuinness Peace Foundation’ has announced a poetry competition in honour of the late IRA leader.
As Ian Acheson has noted here, there will be those who think that the last years of his life, when McGuinness entered government in Northern Ireland, are the years to be commemorated in rhyme. A certain type of leftist even tends to tut at any mention of the earlier, bloodier phase of McGuinness’s career. The Green party MP Caroline Lucas did just that to me some years ago when we were on a programme together and I mentioned the earlier, more noteworthy phase of McGuinness’s life. These people — who often have no knowledge about or connection with The Troubles — long ago took an attitude that suggests that there is something not just silly but reprehensible about identifying this particular killer as a killer.
In the specific case of McGuinness, they say that he ‘became’ a man of peace, as though a man who kills many people and then stops killing them is not just morally equal to everybody else, but in fact rather better. As it happens — and as I have previously explained at book-length — a peculiar sickness emerges in a society in which that transition is applauded while the men and women of all sides who never did any killing, and even argued against it, are all but forgotten.
Anyhow, while mulling on the legacy of Martin McGuinness the other night I felt the muses fire up. Indeed they did so with a fervour that only usually strikes me when I am thinking about Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It started when I realised that if I were to sum up Martin McGuinness’s life, it would be worth returning once more to the limerick form. I will be entering my poem in the coming days, and hope that the Martin McGuinness poetry prize will soon be winging its way to my door. If it does not then obviously I will denounce the whole thing as a corrupt fix and may even start my own off-shoot Martin McGuinness poetry prize. We might call ourselves the provisional wing of the Martin McGuinness poetry prize.
Anyway, here is my effort. I hope readers who are similarly inspired by the life of this man will send in their own verse-memories.
“When Martin McGuinness of DerryMet up with Charon for the ferryThe boatman said ‘MartyMy thanks are most heartyFor all that custom you sent me, with Gerry.'