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1 May 2017

Final message that leaves us in no doubt about the loyalties of former Deputy First Minister

For all its mangled Irish, Martin McGuinness's headstone is highly revealing, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness

There isn't much information on Martin McGuinness's headstone, but what is there conveys plenty. Firstly, there's the reminder of how poor Sinn Fein Irish usually is.

The tweeter and blogger Póló wages war on what he calls "bastard" Irish wherever it occurs.

It is Gerry Adams's "almost daily trashing" of the language that most frequently attracts Póló's ire.

Among the examples he has given is this Adams' Christmassy tweet: "2 more sleeps! Ted&Tom hyper! Oiche Ciuin. Oiche mhic Dia. Beannachtai libh (translation: Silent Night, Night of God's Son. Blessings)."

The correct Irish, points out the indignant Póló, is "Oíche chiúin, oíche Mhic Dé, beannachtaí."

This error-strewn stuff comes "from someone who purports to hold the language dear and have its compulsory use enshrined in Northern Ireland legislation."

When it came to the McGuinness headstone, Póló pointed out four mistakes (three Irish and one English) in what he called "this woeful piece of work".

In Irish script one doesn't dot an 'i'; there is no hyphen in 'hÉireann'; and there's no space between 'Mc' and 'Guinness'.

"How these mistakes ended up on a gravestone that one imagines was intended to be iconic and a place of future pilgrimage, is totally beyond me," commented Póló.

"Unless, of course, the use of the language is really just a token and a silver bullet, and its purely provocative use rather than its content is what really counts."

Of course, the headstone provocations went much further than linguistic carelessness, and since Mr McGuinness was one of the tight group of IRA veterans in control of the republican movement when he died, the terminology can be assumed to reflect his and their wishes.

There was the weird combination of 'Óglach' ('Volunteer') and 'MP MLA Minister', which simultaneously put two fingers up to both unionists and dissident republicans.

But more significantly, there was 'Óglaigh na h-Éireann', which is the official Irish title of the Irish Army, but has also been used for almost a century by various IRAs to denote their belief that they are the true government of Ireland.

So effectively you have a declaration in granite that even in death a man who in 2011 ran in the election for President of Ireland and Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Army (and who was tipped to have an excellent chance in 2018) gave his allegiance to an illegal organisation that challenged the authority of the Irish state and sometimes killed its servants.

It was no accident that this was unveiled on Easter Sunday despite this being a very unusually short time after McGuinness's death and a day when - because of prior engagements to address the faithful at commemorations around the country - the republican first team were largely unavailable.

Mr Adams, for instance, was in Carrickmore to "pay homage to the men and women who died for Irish freedom" and "to motivate ourselves to mobilise and plan how we are going to go forward".

But Easter Sunday, because of the blasphemous quasi-religious links to the 1916 rebellion, is a sacred day and provided an unmissable opportunity once again to claim a place for McGuinness in the pantheon of Irish republican heroes.

An extra provocation was provided by the presence among the unveilers of their only A-lister, Mary Lou McDonald TD, Deputy leader of Sinn Fein in the Republic, whom Gerry Adams intends in due course to impose on the party as his successor as high-handedly as he and the dying McGuinness imposed Michelle O'Neill.

Unless there's a major change of heart, neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fail would tolerate Mr Adams as Sinn Fein leader in a coalition government, so should the party do well in the next election, it will be Ms McDonald who becomes deputy prime minister.

She seems to have no problem with McGuinness's attitude to the State in which she was born and brought up.

"Our great leader and friend lies here now," said Mary-Lou McDonald. "Martin McGuinness, a faithful son of Ireland."

Well, he was a citizen of two states on the island of Ireland, held office in one and aspired to do so in the other, yet was loyal to neither of them.

He seems like a traitor (tréatúir) to me.

Just read his headstone.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

The paperback of Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic will be published on April 23.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards