At one thirty on Monday lunchtime well away from the cameras and the public an enfeebled and emaciated deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness walked into First Minister Arlene Foster’s office and greeted her in a virtual whisper.
Mrs Foster rose to her feet, shocked at Mr McGuinness’s disposition, moved towards him, took him in her arms, cleaved him to her bosom and said Martin “It’ll be all-right. You and I are going to sort out this mess.
“I’ll step aside for a little while and I’ll go out and tell the world life is too short for all this bickering and arguing.”
This didn’t happen. I imagined this on Tuesday as I reflected on my sense of shock on seeing the gaunt figure of the deputy First Minister on our TV screens.
What, I thought, if the events of the day had been otherwise and Arlene Foster mindful of all our human physical frailties had acted graciously in the circumstances?
Northern Ireland would potentially be a different place not just now but possibly for ever.
One single act of grace, of leadership, at the hands of Arlene Foster would probably have melted the possibility of what she now expects to be a ‘brutal election.’
When will principle of ‘Noblesse Oblige’ hit the Hill?
(Responsibilities of the rich, famous and powerful, notably to provide good examples of behaviour or to exceed minimal standards of decency. It has also been used to describe a person taking the blame for something in order to solve an issue or save someone else)
Fr Brian Darcy who was abused as a young boy and as a trainee priest is still loyal to God at 70.
I once challenged him to explain why he still clings to a God who claims to be just, but who allowed this evil to be visited upon him?
“I’ll tell you why” he said “some nights I am driving back to Fermanagh and I am tired and I remember some poor devil who is ill or who is in hospital and I decide to visit that person. A few days later or a short time later I hear that person has died.
“I thank God for guiding me to do that simple act of visiting a sick person.”
This is not just about God it is about leadership and good example.
When former DUP leader Peter Robinson and his wife Iris had their very public domestic upheaval, one of the earliest outings in the aftermath, was their visit to Dublin Castle where The Queen was the guest of Irish President Mary McAleese and of the Irish government. Mrs Robinson cut a dash in her bottle green dress flanked by her husband but what was more memorable for me were two other happenings.
Hundreds of people lined to up to be greeted by President McAleese. She did not not over fraternise with most of them but when it was Iris Robinson’s turn to shake hands with the President Mrs McAleese cleaved her to her bosom and hugged her.
This was an act of grace and an act of love for one who had suffered.
In addressing the Dublin Castle gathering on that same night in perfect Irish, the Queen was gracious to her hosts, uninhibited in acknowledging Irish nationhood, visiting The Garden of Remembrance and Croke Park, landmarks housing loaded memories of a bitter past between The British and Irish peoples.
In her speech The Queen expanded on the British Irish enmity.
“Of course, the relationship has not always been straightforward; nor has the record over the centuries been entirely benign. It is a sad and regrettable reality that through history our islands have experienced more than their fair share of heartache, turbulence and loss.
“These events have touched us all, many of us personally, and are a painful legacy. We can never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all.” Grace and leadership in spades from The Queen.
Within touching distance of The Queen in Dublin Castle sat poet Seamus Heaney who once wrote:
“Be advised, my passport’s green/ No glass of ours was ever raised/ To toast the Queen.”
Now he was toasting that same Queen.
This was another act of grace by one of the most celebrated poets in the world writing in the English language who was born into a nationalist family in Northern Ireland.
That same generosity resides in Heaney’s fellow poet Michael Longley of a Protestant tradition who penned these words in ‘Ceasefire’:
Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears
Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king
Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and
Wept with him until their sadness filled the buidling.
Taking Hector’s corpse into his own hands Achilles
Made sure it was washed and, for the old king’s sake,
Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry
Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.
When they had eaten together, it pleased them both
To stare at each other’s beauty as lovers might,
Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still
And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:
‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done
And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’
We can all learn from history but history can be cruel to history makers.
Ian Paisley paid a high price for befriending Martin McGuinness as his deputy First Minister.
John Hume engaged Sinn Fein to bring about an end to the IRA’s campaign of violence and Sinn Fein stole his party’s clothes.
Peter Robinson stood aside as First Minister during his tenure while senior counsel investigated an allegation that he had breached the Ministerial Code.
He regained his role as First Minister when no guilt was proven. The sky didn’t fall in because he withdrew from exercising his duties for several weeks.
Mr Robinson attended the Dr McKenna Cup GAA final in Armagh and met with hostility in his own camp for doing so. He did his damnedest to deliver the Maze project but faced with outright opposition he had to surrender. Politics is a cruel trade.
Martin McGuinness visited Ian Paisley when he was ill and regularly phoned Mrs Paisley when her husband was in hospital.
Meeting The Queen was a high wire act for Martin McGuinness. The foot soldiers looked to McGuinness during the IRA’s campaign. He was the last person history would have expected to entertain the Queen. Risk taking is part of leadership.
The question is now – has Arlene Foster forfeited a place in history in the current atmosphere in being too inflexible?
Had she in reality cleaved an ailing Martin McGuinness to her bosom in an act of generosity God only knows what would have flown from such a gesture.
Our society is crying out for humanity and hope.
Again as Seamus Heaney told us,”if you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.”
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.
Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.”
We could all learn from the lessons of Civil Rights leader Dr Martin Luther King in 1965 – et tu Arlene.
Sometimes it is better to walk away from confrontation:
The protesters sat down on the road and:
‘After prayers they rose and turned the march back to Selma, avoiding another confrontation with state troopers and skirting the issue of whether to obey Judge Johnson’s court order.
Many marchers were critical of King’s unexpected decision not to push on to Montgomery, but the restraint gained support from President Johnson, who issued a public statement: ‘‘Americans everywhere join in deploring the brutality with which a number of Negro citizens of Alabama were treated when they sought to dramatize their deep and sincere interest in attaining the precious right to vote’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Statement by the President,’’ 272). Johnson promised to introduce a voting rights bill to Congress within a few days.’
Perfectly said. A true leader and his grace throws light on the paucity in others.
Beautifully written, moving and measured; thank you Eamonn.
Maith thú Eamonn .
On of the most poignant compassionate and heat warming articles I have ever read – thank you
Well done Eamonn. I would love more people to read it. Note, Arlene is about 20 or more years younger than those mentioned who showed contrition and some forgiveness in their actions. An older person, in their sixties, would have made a different decision, and shown real leadership for their country.
A really good piece Eamonn – Thanks. I’d agree with Barry, in that it is noteworthy that the individuals you reference were well established, and had lots of kudos banked from all communities. Perhaps too soon for Arlene for such statesmanship. Unfortunately post MMcG it may be difficult for SF also. We could have two (or five!) leaders preoccupied with establishing themselves in their respective communities, rather than considering the wider picture.
Does anyone know what age Gerry Adams is?
Grace is often lacking in groups within Societies who had no need to ever show grace for generations because of their seemingly unassailable positions of power. In the Southern states of USA such gracelessness is still prominent, a white rump in S. Africa also exhibit the same ungenerous acceptance of change. Israel is presently instilling this in its population.
Unionism has never been generous nor been bearers of gifts to its neighbours.
Michael Farrell’s “NI The Orange State” charts the development of this attitude since the State was created – and the State was created purely to suit Unionism. It is in these facts that the arrogance of the Graceless was girded firmly into their expedient politics. The problem really was that they believed themselves to be victims of what was their own success in having this State gifted to them – deep down they always knew it could not last forever.
And I gracefully am trying to understand their fear in this matter. I would be most generous to Unionism if I had the power to deliver true justice and equality to this place.
We have now reached a time where massive change will initiated.
The 12/13 July Public Holiday status sums up everything about here and Unionism. No where else in the world would 50% of a population be forced to celebrate an event/defeat which, in affect sealed their fate for centuries.
Rubicon awaits us all.
“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful Grace of God.”
Aeschylus; circa 500BC.
eammon how do i share your grace???Geraldine you know me fought a great battle for my son adam in st brides many moons ago he is now very happy healthy and working with youth service you will know martin qc bless rsvp gv xo
Northstar, have you visited the southern U.S., or is “In the Southern states of USA such gracelessness is still prominent” based solely on media reports?
I have lived in the south. I grew up in Texas and now live in the middlest part of the United States. I am old enough to remember segregation as a part of daily life. The greatest gracelessness I have seen lately has been from those who ought to know and do better, those who WERE badly treated in days gone by.
If you’ve been here and seen such things firsthand, please be very specific. I live here, and I do NOT see it. Some of the least color-conscious areas now are those which were the most color conscious a couple generations ago.
Probably the most bigoted areas are those big cities in the north to which blacks fled in the great migration a hundred years ago, Chicago, Detroit, Boston… Again, if you have seen things firsthand, please share your experiences. I’m willing to learn.
Have a great day, sir. God bless.
Thank you Eamon for expressing so eloquently the call to serve the greatest good. You have done it today with these words. I am so very sad and disappointed again at this impasse but forever hopeful that grace will prevail.
Maith thu Eamonn
Such a well written piece I only wish it could be read and digested by all.
Excellent piece Eamonn GRMA
Has to be one of the best pieces of educated writing in recent times, so thoughtful and perceptive. I am not sure what the image on the stone represents, I guess it will mean different things to various folk. I see a tree bearing fruit or flowers- if we can give a Christian analogy of fruits of the Spirit of which grace is one, along with love, patience, kindness. I consider myself as a nationalist Protestant if such a term exists, I am so frustrated that many politicians cannot see a bigger picture and are stuck in a time warp. How many of our population really believe that England wants Northern Ireland. We are a drain on the public purse with no strategic purpose. In time it will become one island, everybody can be bought for a price, perhaps now is the time for a price to be decided and resolve this time wasting circus.
The image is of flax flowers. The emblem of the NI Assembly
Wonderful piece, so well written
Very well written and very accurate. Theres lyrics from a U2 song called Grace which convey a similar thought:
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that
Changed the world
Beautifully written Eamonn.
Well written indeed though I have seen arlene the woman that seems to be in the news these days having to embrace dozens of victims of ira terrorism in the North West in Castlederg one night and it was indeed heart wrenching and extremely difficult, people need to realise how difficult the balance is around the legacy of the troubles and the past in dealing with victims as well as those who have a history in the troubles.
What can I say? This is an amazing piece of writing. Made me emotional. “Grace” such a glorious attribute. Thanks Mr M.
I have been tweeting today asking where are the ‘get well soon’ messages from unionist politicians?
No answers as yet!
Well written, Eamonn. The most important thing that we learnt in the whole process was that the ancient feud was not about territory but about disturbed historic relationships, and the Peace Process was about finding ways of healing those relationships – three sets of them, and more. By failing to learn this lesson, a new generation is threatening the loss of what was gained.
You write so beautfiully, what a joy to read, looking forward to the next piece, Warmest Regards,
Eamonn, have to agree with just about everyone else above on the quality of this piece. Thank you! Martin needs to get right away from all thoughts of Stormont, to get the best medical treatment he can. The sheer speed of his enfeeblement is probably what has shocked us all. But the grammarian in me makes me question the transitive use of ‘cleave’, thrice over. Genesis is more intransitive: “Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife.” Not Arlene’s style at all, I fear. She’d be more for cleaving a Shinner with an axe or a cleaver, methinks. I wonder if the thought of Arlene’s bosom and cleavage clove you from your intended word, ‘clasp’?
Eddie, it’s been done that people unable to find adequate medical care in their homelands have purchased travel insurance at home and scheduled a holiday to, say, Walt Disney World, in Florida.
My wife was a cardiac nurse in Orlando. Quite often, a percentage of her patients were from overseas. They were “taken ill” somewhere over the Atlantic and came off the plane on a stretcher. Within a day or two, they had surgeries which would be delayed for months or years in their home countries. The nurses had a term for such folks or for their “sudden” illnesses, but I don’t recall it right now.
It’s legal, but I find the morality a bit iffy. Still, if my choices were to chisel an insurance company or die within weeks, I’d quite likely buy the insurance and book my flight.
Sometimes dying men’s moral choices change.
Thanks Eamonn. Fantastic article. Let’s hope for more grace from all of us!
Hi Eamon — I have just written in fulsome praise of your fantastic article on GRACE. Much appreciated. But not sure it has been recorded. I’m not very good at Facebook etc
But if it does not appear I will try again in the morning. Harold Good
Eamon – I know you would neither claim to be or wish to be thought of as a preacher !
But what you have written about GRACE is as good – if not much better – than any sermon I have heard on that wonderful word. You have lifted it out of our vocabulary of faith and related it to the real life situation in which we now find ourselves. GRACE – a word which is central to the teaching and example of Jesus – but which sadly is either misunderstood or avoided by many who would otherwise seek to impress us with their loud profession of faith. Yet sadly lacking in GRACE in their relationships with others. As you say, what a difference it would make in our relationships at every level, personal and political, if we were to live more GRACE–iously. If I had the authority and the facility (which obviously I don’t) I would command every preacher to take your article – together with the good book – to preach a sermon on GRACE on this coming Sunday . . . and the next.. . . and the next . . .
Having done so in the past, I will “dust down” that sermon and preach it again at the next and every opportunity. Thank you Eamon, preacher and prophet in your own right !!
Thanks for the reflections on grace – inspired way to start the day and so true in many of our own lives – Michael
Thank you Eamon. Grace is so practical. A lovely concept but so hard for all of us especially those in power to show.
Wow Eamonn – proud of you.
Gratias Eamon: A magnificent and marvellous desertation on Grace
with such well chosen examples from life and verse from venerable poets.
I think we on this island are, as ever, considerably in your debt. Thank you for the clarity and humanity which I believe you show in all of your analyses.
A moving read Eamonn at a time when one was dispairing at the lack of unionist humility, kindness and leadership on this island. Hope had been imagined through some brave acts of leadership by Martin McGuinness, the Queen and others in recent times
If only the unionists could think like you,Eamonn, ans see the bigger picture, but they are caught in a time warp, always looking back, harping on about the past, just when I was about to despair, you have gave me some hope, we need to pray for Martin, for a speedy n full recovery from his illness and also for Arlene, that she will replace some of the bitterness with some grace, Gob bless all mary c
Very thought provoking, thank you….
Showing true ‘grace’ is not an obligation of office. Showing true grace is courageous and costly, perhaps its a bridge too far for any of our politicians. We are all prone to demanding from others what we ourselves are at best reluctant to give. Grace by its very definition is favour shown towards the most undeserving. Make up your own mind who’s the most underserving in this situation…
A question for us to consider is this, who among our politicians has the necessary courage and class to demonstrate the qualities of grace filled leadership that will enable us to heal the great divide…?
Perhaps we should be raising our vision somewhat higher, Lord Help Us…
WHEN MY 34 YEAR OLD SISTER MARGARET WHO HAD SEVEN CHILDREN FROM 1 TO 11 WAS KILLED ON BLOODY FRIDAY 1972 BY A CAR BOMB PLANTED BY THE PROVISSIONAL IRA ON THE CAVEHILL ROAD I FELT SUCH SORROW AND ANGER AND RAGE. I HAD BEEN BROUGHT UP BY WONDERFUL CHRISTIAN PARENTS IN THE CATHOLIC BRANCH OF CHRISTIANITY.IN FAITH I UNDERSTOOD THAT FROM THE CREATION OF THE WORLD OUR GOD HAD GIVEN HUMANKIND TOTAL FREE WILL AND FROM CONCEPTION THE KNOWLEDGE OF RIGHT AND WRONG.IVE NEVER BLAMED MY GOD BECAUSE IN MOST WORLD AND DOMESTIC PROBLEMS I SEE MANKINDS HAND OF GREED, CORRUPTION , POWER- SEEKING AND SELFISHNESS. THESE HORRIBLE HAPPENINGS THROUGHOUT OUR WORLD WONT END THERE,THERE IS STILL A JUDGEMENT TO COME IN ETERNITY AND OUR GOD WILL ASK AN ACCOUNT OF EACH AND EVERY SINGLE ONE OF OUR LIVES. THEN OUR MERCIFUL FORGIVING AND JUST GOD WILL SENTENCE US AS WE DESERVE. I REMEMBER THE PAST BUT I DONT TALK ABOUT IT OR USE IT AS A BIG STICK TO BEAT MY “NEIGHBOUR”. INSTEAD I HAVE TO CONTINUALLY PRACTICE TO LOVE HER/HIM INTO LIVING TOGETHER IN PEACE WITH RESPECT FOR EACH OTHER IN ALL THINGS.ARLENES LACK OF GRACE IS SAD BUT ITS NEVER TOO LATE TO CHANGE SO LETS ALL PRAY FOR GODS GRACE ON US ALL TO SEE THE DANGER IN OUR MIDST AND GET RID OF IT NOW. EAMONNS GRACE SAYS IT ALL FOR HUMANKIND IN N.IRELAND. THANK YOU EAMONN.
Eamonn’s take on the present situation is so inspirational and a beacon of hope to everyone who feels so let down in the present political turmoil…..I think it should encourages us all to storm heaven with a renewed fervour even in this eleventh hour, in begging God for the “grace”to open even the hardest.of hearts….for it will not happen except through his grace and his grace is freely given to those who ask,…so let,s ask. Thanks for posting this.
What beautiful words to describe the opportunity to witness leadership, human decency, integrity and graciousness from the First Minister sadly being squandered for more depressing expressions of defiance and intransigence. However, God’s good, so I hope all is not yet lost. Meanwhile, thank you for ‘Grace’.
Great stuff. Your striking title has sent me further back than Longley and Heaney, to Joyce, where the Grace is present not in the hollow and worldly preaching at the end of the ironic story, but in the picking-up and helping of a man when he’s down. Is it merely coincidence the Colm Dore on this same site later figures the DUP as “drunk”?
Moved by depth of feeling behind the encouragement to inch, or take a leap forward. People of faith should be singing from the rafters with this sentiment..do justice love mercy (show grace ) and walk humbly with your God. A big hug across the divide would indeed be good medicine
Some man to talk about need for ‘Grace’ when you condemned Barry McElduff for intentionally causing hurt to Kingsmills Families when any examination of the evidence would point to an unfortunatte coincidence that he did not realise – Shame on you Eamonn Mallie.