US politicians and Irish-Americans attend Martin McGuinness Mass

Late Sinn Féin man ‘changed the course of history in Ireland’, says Richard Neal

Martin McGuinness: “He helped bring an end to the longest-running political dispute in the history of the western world. After decades and against great odds, we saw the gun permanently taken out of Irish politics,” said Congressman Richard Neal. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Martin McGuinness: “He helped bring an end to the longest-running political dispute in the history of the western world. After decades and against great odds, we saw the gun permanently taken out of Irish politics,” said Congressman Richard Neal. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

Friends, family and members of Congress gathered in the early-morning sunshine in Washington DC on Tuesday as the US political community paid tribute to former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and Mr McGuinness’s two sons, Fiachra and Emmett, were among those who attended the 8am Mass at St Peter’s Church.

Addressing the congregation, celebrant Fr Jordan Kelly spoke of the two singular events that shaped the life of Mr McGuinness – the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 when Mr McGuinness beheld the “discord, the pathos and the suffering” of humanity, and the Belfast Agreement, which brought a peace agreement – however shaky – to Northern Ireland.

In his eulogy, Congressman Richard Neal recalled how Mr McGuinness had “taken the risk for peace”.

“He changed the course of history in Ireland. He helped bring an end to the longest-running political dispute in the history of the western world. After decades and against great odds, we saw the gun permanently taken out of Irish politics,” he said. “We saw ancient adversaries shake hands, and a society transformed.”

Peace process

Mr Neal, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, was a central figure in US efforts to forge peace in Ireland during the Clinton administration. He also recalled the difficult task he faced in bringing the Republican movement with him when he decided to embark on the peace process.

“It was not an easy decision . . . but he knew it was the right thing to do.”

Mr Adams, who has been in the US since last week, did the second reading, while former congressman Jim Walsh delivered the first reading.

Also in attendance at the service was John Deasy, who was appointed last month by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as special envoy to the US with responsibility for immigration.

The Irish Embassy was represented by charge d’affaires Michael Lonergan, while Norman Houston of the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington also attended.

Congressman Jim McGovern was also present, as was former congressman Bruce Morrison and the assistant deputy secretary at the State department.

Congressman Brendan Boyle said that Mr McGuinness remained an inspiration for people on both sides of the Atlantic. “What an extraordinary life he led. The decisions he made, and the journey we travelled, continues to be an inspiration.”

Belfast Agreement

Secretary of state for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire who was in Washington on Monday, did not attend the Mass. On Monday, he met Gerry Adams, while the Sinn Féin leader also met representatives of the US state department and the Friends of Ireland committee in Congress where he stressed the importance of continuing to focus on the Belfast Agreement.

In the final eulogy, Norman Houston of the Northern Ireland Bureau recalled the moment when Mr McGuinness shook the hand of Queen Elizabeth in 2012, and read a poem, Shaking Hands by Pádraig Ó Tuama, written to mark that moment.

“Because what’s the alternative? Because of courage. Because of loved ones lost. Because no more. Because it’s a small thing; shaking hands; it happens every day. Because I heard of one man whose hands haven’t stopped shaking since a market day in Omagh. Because it takes a second to say hate, but it takes longer, much longer, to be a great leader. Much, much longer.”