Not much more than a decade ago, the idea that Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley’s names belonged together might have seemed fantastical.
One was a crusty Protestant firebrand from Antrim. The other was a Catholic militant from Derry young enough to be his son. They stood on opposite sides of battle lines—sometimes literal ones—for decades. What little they shared was not promising: a mutual hatred, and a history of involvement in sectarian violence. Yet the two men eventually became close working colleagues, so amiable they were christened “the Chuckle Brothers” and so closely associated that with McGuinness’s death Tuesday, the two men’s names and reputations are intertwined.
McGuinness, who was born in 1950, joined the IRA after dropping out of school and becoming a trainee butcher. He was the IRA’s No. 2 man in Derry in 1972, when British soldiers opened fire on a march protesting imprisonment without trial of suspected IRA members. In what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” 14 people were killed. Several months later, McGuinness and Gerry Adams, another IRA militant, flew to London together for secret talks with the British government, becoming close in the process.
McGuinness was widely believed to have become chief of staff of of the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s, though he claimed he had left the IRA in 1974 and committed to Sinn Fein, its political wing, which insisted it was separate. He was convicted twice, once for belonging to the IRA and once for being caught with explosives and ammunition. Adams, by contrast, has always denied being an IRA member, but has been linked to multiple murders. Adams was always the more prominent Sinn Fein leader, but McGuinness worked closely with him.