Folks traveling from Long Island drove 3-4 hours to get to the event given President Biden’s visit to NYC to address the UN General Assembly also taking place at the same time was the Clinton Global Initiative. However, nothing could deter them from getting to the dinner to support the Martin McGuinness Peace Foundation.
They were not disappointed when they arrived either. Bernie McGuinness thanked the crowd for all their support for the Foundation and those that participated in the second annual Chieftain’s Walk. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who spoke at both of the annual Chieftain Walks couldn’t make the dinner because the Senate was in session but sent a video thanking everyone in attendance and Martin’s family for sharing Martin with us all those years.
Sinn Fein President MaryLou McDonald also thanked the crowd for supporting the important work of the foundation which was created originally in Derry and then in the U.S. to promote the advancement of reconciliation, conflict resolution, unity and peacebuilding – locally, nationally and internationally. The Foundation is recognized is a charitable 501(c)(3) organization.
The keynote for the evening was Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein MLA from Belfast who flew over from Belfast to talk about his friend Martin. He spoke about the first time he met Martin in the late 80s when Gerry Adams introduced them.
He said he was nervous meeting Martin for the first, because even then Martin was legendary, however, immediately upon meeting him, Martin treated Gerry as they were old friends. Gerry Kelly himself was on hunger strike for 60 days in 1981. He said it didn’t matter who Martin spoke to – heads of state or a staff worker in Stormont or a child on the streets of Belfast, he treated everyone the same and always with the same level of dignity and respect.
Gerry also thanked Bernie and Emmett for coming to the U.S. and for all the support they gave Martin through some of the most trying times in the North of Ireland. He told the audience that no matter where he was or how long it took, Martin always went home at the end of the day to be with his family. Martin’s legacy is that for the last 25 years there has been a lasting peace under the Good Friday Agreement – an agreement where Martin was the chief negotiator.
The people in attendance were shown pictures of Martin and Ian Paisley laughing. For those that don’t recall, Reverend Ian Paisley infamously said, Never, Never, Never - I am not going to sit down with bloodthirsty monsters, a reference to the leadership of SF. After being shown the picture it was joked that Martin had the last laugh. They were also shown a picture of Martin shaking hands with the Queen.
These were a testament to Martin’s legacy. As President Clinton said at Martin’s funeral “Somewhere along the way, for whatever reason, he decided to give peace a chance. Some of the reasons were principled, some were practical, but he decided.”
"So that’s what he did, he persevered, and he prevailed. He risked the rejection of his comrades and the wrath of his adversaries. He made honorable compromises and was strong enough to keep them, and came to be trusted because his word was good,” he fought.
He made peace. He made politics.
That was Martin, his staunch enemies couldn’t deny that he fought because his destination was to see a lasting peace in Ireland where all people were treated equally regardless of religion, politics or race.
Martin himself once said– it is healthy and good for us that there are people who are prepared to question what we are doing. As some may have heard Bono was on a panel with President Clinton on Tuesday at the Clinton Global Initiative and they were asked about Martin McGuinness.
Bono turned to the audience and President Clinton and said, that he, Bon, was wrong and President Clinton was right about Martin McGuinness’s motives for peace. That was not the first time Bono apologized for his comments about Martin - in 2010 in op-ed piece he admitted then that he was wrong on his first impressions about Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams.
Sometimes history makes the man and sometimes the man makes history. There is no question that whichever it is determined to be, Martin had an end to his means and was able to put his differences aside to make for a better tomorrow for all the people of Ireland. He was a unique individual not only because he could negotiate a peace agreement, but he truly could put his differences aside for the greater good, but more importantly, he could convince his adversaries to do the same. It was just an added touch they would come to admire the man they once hated.
* Marty Glennon is a New York labor lawyer and Irish activist.