The name Guinness in Ireland no doubt brings to mind happy times sharing a pint or two with friends. In this letter we will add to the name and visit the homeland of one Martin McGuinness, peacemaker and loyal son of Derry.
Céad Míle Fáilte – you are very welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. How are things in your part of the world today? We’re coasting nicely into the Spring here in Ireland, with plenty of leaves on the trees and a nice lift in the temperature.
I’m on a glass of water from the well as I write, and I do hope you’ll join me with a cup of whatever you are having yourself as we start into today’s letter. However, if it weren’t so early in the morning, I might be having a “scoop of the black stuff” – no, not black tea – but one of Ireland’s national drinks, Guinness. We’ll not be touching on the drink itself in this letter – but we will be looking at that Irish surname.
For decades, the “Mag Aonghusa” clan were the lords of the Ui Eachach Cobha tribe located in what is now part of County Down. Over time, their surname became anglicised as McGennis/McGuinness and their homeland in County Down became known as the Barony of Iveagh. Do you have this surname in your family tree? Maybe you have one of the other families of the tribe: MacCartan, O’Hayes (O’Hugh), O’Rogan, O’Rooney, O’Hanvey, O’Devaneys, O’Lavery and O’Gowan.
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While their descendants went on to become founders of the famous Guinness brewing dynasty, we’re going to focus on a different McGuinness today.
Have you ever been to the town of Derry (officially known these days as “Derry-Londonderry”)? It’s a lovely, compact and safe city – located just on the border between Derry and County Donegal. It is still surrounded by intact defensive walls – you can walk a full loop around the town even today. Of course, go back two or three decades and this would have been one of the most dangerous and economically depressed parts of the world.
Last week, one man who played a major part in transforming Northern Ireland into a safer place for all was laid to rest just outside these walls of Derry. His name was Martin McGuinness – a one-time leader in the IRA and latterly the Second Minister of Northern Ireland. His journey from what some would call “terrorist”, more would call “freedom fighter”, was extraordinary – and many of the obituaries and eulogies recognised a man who always had the courage of his convictions, and in a unique position to sponsor peace in Northern Ireland. As Bill Clinton said in his eulogy, McGuinness would probably have summed up his life as:
“I fought. I made peace. I made politics.”
This eulogy was delivered in a Catholic church in Derry – and delivered to an audience that included the Unionist First Minister, Arlene Foster. Indeed, she was applauded for her attendance by the congregation. It was extraordinary to see that – a real reminder of the legacy of Martin McGuinness. May he Rest in Peace.
I’d like to finish off with two pieces for you to view. The first is a short video from the BBC. It tracks McGuinness’s path from IRA hardman to statesman – and the second is one of his own favourite songs – a song all about his town of Derry at a very different time called “The Town I Loved So Well”.
And here is “The Town I Loved So Well”:
That’s it for this week – as always do feel free to share your stories, comments and Irish surnames in your family.
Slán for now,
Mike & Carina.
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