Friday, March 13, 2020

Chieftain's Walk Postponed

Martin and Buttons on Derry's Walls

Chieftain’s Walk postponed 

I wrote this blog and it was published by the Andersonstown News on Wednesday. However, the crisis created by the Coronavirus led Martin’s family to postpone it.

This is their statement and below is my blog.
“The family of Martin Mc Guinness have taken the ‘difficult but necessary’ decision to postpone this year’s 2020 Chieftain’s Walk amid the concerns over Coronavirus, it has been confirmed.

Announcing the decision, Fiachra Mc Guinness said: “As a family we want to thank everyone who has already registered for this year’s Chieftains Walk which had been scheduled to take place on March 29th.

“As ever, we gratefully appreciate your support and it has been a difficult decision for us to take to postpone the event.

“However, in light of the ongoing situation regarding Coronavirus, we also feel it is a necessary decision in order to play our part in helping to prevent the spread of this virus.

“It is our firm intention to reorganise the Chieftains Walk as soon as practically possible, registration remains open, and further details will be announced when they are confirmed.

“For now though, we would reiterate our thanks to all those who have registered and supported the Chieftains Walk over the past two years. It remains a great source of comfort to us as a family.” 

The Chieftain’s Walk.
Martin McGuinness died on 21 March 2017 from amyloidosis – a genetic disease. The following year his family and friends came together and organised the first Chieftain’s Walk to raise money for the Cancer Centre at Altnagelvin Hospital. This year’s Chieftain’s Walk will be on March 29th.
I joined with thousands of others in that first walk. We started at Glenowen in Derry and walked the five and a half miles to the Stone Fort of Grianán of Aileach on the Inishowen peninsula. If you have never visited Grianán put it on your to-do list. It’s a five-metre-high, four-metre-thick circular wall which gives an amazing view of Lough Foyle, and especially of Inch Island and Lough Swilly.
It was one of Martin’s favourite places. He went there many times. He was especially fond of the skyscape when on a clear night billions of stars and galaxies shine down on Donegal. Many a time he and I walked out the Groarty Road to Grianán. Whatever the weather. It is a dramatic and spiritual space. A place of quiet beauty. So, for me Grianán is forever tied up with Martin McGuinness.
Martin’s family have their roots in Donegal. Na hUilli, anglicized to the Illies, north of Buncrana, on the Inis Eoghain peninsula. Inis Eoghain and Derry are on opposite flanks of that same broad finger of high ground between Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle. The British border winds its invasive unwelcome way through this beautiful landscape creating two separate jurisdictions and separating County Derry from County Donegal.
It was on Inis Eoghain that Martin spent his childhood summers. When Martin and Bernie got married it was in Cockhill chapel, outside Buncrana. It was there that Martin got Colette and I the use of a caravan for me to recuperate in after I was shot and wounded in 1984. So I also got to know the magic of the Inis Eoghain peninsula.
Martin was also very much a child of Derry. He loved the City, its places and people. He was born in 1950. As a young person growing up in Derry in the 1950s and 60s Martin was no more interested in politics that everyone else his age. He had the same interests as everyone else his age. But politics intruded on his life. He was part of a nationalist community that lived in a unionist dominated apartheid state. A state that did not want Martin or his family or his community. In a City that had become a byword for electoral gerrymandering and discrimination.  
The civil rights movement was born out of this injustice. Derry was in the vanguard of the campaign for justice. Like many other young people Martin took part in the civil rights marches. He witnessed at first hand the violent response of the unionist regime and its paramilitary forces. It was into this maelstrom that a young Martin McGuinness and many other Derry wans bravely stepped. It was this Martin McGuinness - young, idealistic, courageous, a leader – who I met for the first time behind the barricades in Derry. His politics were shaped by the Derry experience, by his love of Derry and by his mother Peggy’s homeplace in Inishowen.
There was a ready warmth in his smile. A genuine openness and a pleasant, unpretentious personality. In the years that followed Martin and I shared many adventures and memorable times. Some funny, some not.
During the battle of the funerals I remember him in Milltown Cemetery - when we were surrounded by lines of battle wielding, riot clad RUC men –telling everyone to turn round and face them. To look them in the eye. Not to be afraid. To remember that they were the oppressors and that it was we who desired freedom and justice.
When Michael Stone attacked the Gibraltar funerals 32 years ago this month Martin was there helping the wounded, bringing calm to a dangerous situation. He was fearless. He was a leader.
It was he who was our representative in the secret talks with the British government in the early 90’s. He led the first Sinn Féin delegation to the British at Parliament Buildings in December 1994. He was in the first republican delegation to hold talks in Downing Street in December 1997. He was our Chief negotiator – the man who sat across the table from British Prime Ministers and Ministers and Unionist representatives and argued for change.
On one occasion in 2002 during a meeting in Tony Blair’s inner office in Downing Street Martin forcefully told him not to invade Iraq. Martin told him that if he thought the war in Ireland was bad invading Iraq would be so much more. We both urged Blair to turn back from what would be a disastrous course for the people of that region and for Britain. Blair ignored us.
In March 2007, after several years of difficult negotiations, Ian Paisley joined Martin and I in a press conference at Parliament Buildings to announce we had a deal. Two months later Martin and Ian Paisley and became joint First Ministers. In the years that followed Martin made a remarkable personal and political journey, first with Paisley, then with Peter Robinson and then with Arlene Foster.
He remained a steadfast republican, unbowed and unbroken throughout his life of activism. He never deviated from his republican principles; his belief in the unity of the Irish people in a free, independent, united Ireland; or in his humanity. He always did his best – he gave it one hundred percent.
So join us and Bernie and the McGuinness clann on The Chieftain’s Walk on March 29th.
The funds raised will go to the Martin McGuinness Peace Foundation which was established in his memory. The Foundation will celebrate Martin’s life, work and achievements by promoting his aims of reconciliation; unity and peace; social and economic change; rights; equality; inclusivity and diversity and community empowerment through an inclusive program of education, sport, debate, art and culture which will be open to all.
This year’s Chieftain’s Walk will have a new route from previous years. Martin was very fond of walking along Derry’s Walls. It wouldn’t have been unusual to see him walking along the walls with his dog Buttons. The Chieftain’s Walk will begin at 1.30pm at Westland Street, walking along the Derry Walls and finishing at the Long Tower Centre.
Bígí linn.

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