Timeline: The life of Martin McGuinness
Key dates for ex-IRA commander, Sinn Féin leader and former deputy first minister
May 23rd, 1950: James Martin Pacelli McGuinness is born in Derry. The city was riven by poverty, unemployment and discrimination. Gerrymandering meant that Protestants always controlled the city council, even though Catholics were the majority population.
1961: Martin McGuinness fails the 11-plus school examination and upon leaving the Christian Brothers’ technical college is turned down for a job as a car mechanic because he is a Catholic.
October 5th, 1968: Two days of rioting break out after a banned civil rights march in Derry is broken up by the RUC, using batons. Many view this incident as the start of the Troubles.
August 12th-14th, 1969: Battle of the Bogside follows Apprentice Boys parade in Derry. Taoiseach Jack Lynch notes that Stormont has lost control of the situation and says: “It is clear, also, that the Irish government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured - and perhaps worse.”
August 14th-15th, 1969: British troops deployed on streets of Belfast and Derry.
December 29th, 1969: Ideological split reported in the IRA, resulting in creation of Official IRA and Provisional IRA.
January 11th, 1970: Sinn Féin splits into Officials and Provisionals, mirroring the split in the IRA.
1970: A trainee butcher, McGuinness abandons his apprenticeship, joins the IRA and rises quickly through its ranks.
January 30th, 1972: McGuinness is second-in-command of the IRA in Derry on Bloody Sunday. Young nationalist men and women flock to join the organisation after British Parachute Regiment soldiers shoot dead 13 unarmed civil rights demonstrators.
We have fought against the killing of our people . . . I am a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and very, very proud of it
August 1971 to end of 1972: Twenty-six British soldiers are killed by the Provisional IRA in Derry.
July 7th, 1972: McGuinness joins Gerry Adams in a six-man IRA delegation flown by the British government to London for secret face-to-face negotiations with then Northern Ireland secretary of state, William Whitelaw.
July 31st, 1972: British army launches Operation Motorman to retake control of areas controlled by the IRA in Belfast and Derry. It is the biggest British military engagement in Ireland since the War of Independence. Aware of the military build-up in advance of the operation, the IRA leadership moved to avoid arrest.
1973: McGuinness is convicted of IRA membership by the jury-less Special Criminal Court in Dublin after being arrested near a car containing 250 lb (110 kg) of explosives and nearly 5,000 rounds of ammunition. He refuses to recognise the court and is sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. He tells the court: “We have fought against the killing of our people . . . I am a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and very, very proud of it.”
November 21st, 1974: An IRA team blows up two pubs in Birmingham, killing 21 young people and injuring 162.
1974: McGuinness is arrested, charged with IRA membership, convicted and once more imprisoned by the Special Criminal Court.
1975: IRA ceasefire come into place.
1977: McGuinness becomes the first northern commander of the IRA after a successful move against the old southern-based leadership. The IRA extends its list of so-called “legitimate targets” to include police families, civilian searchers at security checkpoints and businessmen.
1978 until 1982: It is believed that during this period Martin McGuinness proceeds to become the IRA’s chief of staff.
February 17th, 1978: Twelve people, seven of them women, are killed when an IRA firebomb devastates the La Mon Hotel on the outskirts of Belfast.
August 27th, 1979: A remote-controlled IRA bomb kills Lord Louis Mountbatten and three of his boating party off the coast of Sligo. Some hours later in Warrenpoint, Co Down, 18 British paratroopers are killed in an IRA ambush.
May 5th, 1981: IRA prisoner Bobby Sands dies on his 66th day of hunger strike in support of political status. In all, 10 prisoners die on hunger strike in the H-Blocks. Electoral successes of striking prisoners North and South results in the Provisionals placing more focus on electoral politics. McGuinness signals his intention to stand for a seat in the 1982 Assembly election and takes on a more political role as chairman of the IRA’s army council after standing down as IRA chief-of-staff.
At the end of the day, it will be the cutting edge of the IRA that will bring freedom
October 20th, 1982: Along with Gerry Adams, Owen Carron, Jim McAllister and Danny Morrison, Martin McGuinness wins a seat in the controversial Stormont Assembly election. The Sinn Féin candidates take five seats and, along with the SDLP, refuse to take their seats. McGuinness is the second candidate elected, after the SDLP’s John Hume.
November 15th, 1985: Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher sign Anglo-Irish Agreement.
1986: Martin McGuinness insists as Sinn Féin deputy leader that “armed struggle” remains essential. “We don’t believe that winning elections and any amount of votes will bring freedom in Ireland,” he told a BBC documentary team. “At the end of the day, it will be the cutting edge of the IRA that will bring freedom.”
January 11th, 1988: John Hume meets Gerry Adams for talks, with both denying an IRA ceasefire is on the agenda.
March 6th, 1988: SAS kills three IRA members in Gibraltar, starting a spiral of violence that leads to a loyalist gun and grenade attack on one of the funerals in Belfast. Days later, two British soldiers are killed after driving into the funeral path of IRA member Kevin Brady, killed in the attack on Belfast’s Milltown cemetery.
1990: The British open a secret dialogue with the IRA in the hope of securing a ceasefire. An MI6 agent meets McGuinness a number of times as part of wider efforts that eventually deliver the 1994 IRA truce, and, ultimately, multi-party negotiations on Northern Ireland’s future and the US-brokered Belfast Agreement peace accord of 1998.
February 1991: IRA fires mortar bombs at British prime minister’s Downing Street office in London when John Major and his cabinet are inside.
September 23rd, 1992: Amid indications that talks are coming to a halt, a 2,000lb IRA bomb destroys the forensic science laboratories in south Belfast.
August 31st, 1994: Provisional IRA declares a “complete cessation of violence”, ending 25 years of IRA hostilities.
1996: Martin McGuinness is elected to the Northern Ireland Forum, representing Foyle.
July 1997: IRA renews its ceasefire.
April 10th, 1998: The Belfast Agreement (sometimes referred to as the Good Friday Agreement), creates political institutions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.
December 2nd, 1999: Martin McGuinness is appointed minister of education in Stormont and scraps the 11-plus exam, which he failed as a child.
May 2nd, 2001: McGuinness confirms publicly for first time he was the IRA’s second-in-command in Derry on Bloody Sunday and that he had given a statement to the Bloody Sunday tribunal saying the IRA did not engage with the British army on that day and that there were no IRA units in the area of the march.
July 2002: The IRA apologises for the deaths and suffering of “non-combatants” caused by its campaign of violence.
July 2005: IRA orders an end to its armed campaign.
October 2006: The St Andrews Agreement is signed. The agreement, between Irish and British governments and major political parties in Northern Ireland leads to restoration of the Stormont Assembly, the Northern Ireland Executive and a decision by Sinn Féin to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The agreement includes a commitment by the DUP to power-sharing.
May 8th, 2007: McGuinness becomes deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. The day before being sworn in, he says: “I’ve always believed the way to dilute sectarianism is by a combination of approaches. The really important one of all is for people of different political persuasions to work together in a positive and constructive fashion. I would hope that Ian Paisley and I have begun to show people that it is possible.”
I am an unapologetic Irish republican and I value very much the contribution Queen Elizabeth has made to the peace process and to reconciliation
December 2007: During visit to the US, McGuinness says: “Up until the 26th of March this year, Ian Paisley and I never had a conversation about anything - not even about the weather - and now we have worked very closely together over the last seven months and there’s been no angry words between us.... This shows we are set for a new course.”
2011: McGuinness comes third in the Irish presidential election. After the election he returns to his role as deputy first minister of Northern Ireland.
June 27th, 2012: McGuinness shakes hands at a private meeting with Queen Elizabeth, and later shakes hands with her in public. After a 20-minute private meeting, McGuinness says: “I am an unapologetic Irish republican and I value very much the contribution Queen Elizabeth has made to the peace process and to reconciliation.”
2013: McGuinness accepts an invitation from Colin and Wendy Parry to speak at a peace lecture in Warrington, 20 years after IRA bombs had killed their 12-year-old son, Tim, and another boy, three-year-old Johnathan Ball. “I thought it was important to go, to acknowledge the hurt and the pain,” he said.
January 9th, 2017: Martin McGuinness resigns as deputy first minister at Stormont over the refusal of the DUP’s Arlene Foster to step aside as first minister over the Renewable Heat Incentive (“cash for ash”) scandal and the decision to cut £50,000 in funding from the Líofa Gaeltacht Bursary scheme, a yearly programme that allowed 100 children to travel to the Donegal Gaeltacht to learn Irish.
In his resignation letter, he writes: “I have sought with all my energy and determination to serve all the people of the North and the island of Ireland by making the power-sharing government work. Throughout that time, I have worked with successive DUP first ministers and, while our parties are diametrically opposed ideologically and politically, I have always sought to exercise my responsibilities in good faith and to seek resolutions rather than recrimination.”
March 21st, 2017: Martin McGuinness dies at the age of 66.