Martin McGuinness poetry prize ‘an insult and an obscenity’

An author has sharply criticised a new poetry competition being held in honour of Martin McGuinness, saying it is an “insult” to the memories of people killed by the paramilitary group he commanded.

Friday, 29th January 2021, 7:00 am
A flyer advertising the poetry contest

Ken Wharton, a former soldier with the Royal Green Jackets, recalled in particular the death of young military man Stephen Cummins, who was himself a keen poetry lover but who was killed aged 24 in west Londonderry – Mr McGuinness’ home turf.

It comes after Sinn Fein revealed this week that the Martin McGuinness Peace Foundation (a company set up in 2019) is hosting a contest for the best poem about “Martin’s legacy or his vision for a New Ireland” because his “love of poetry was well-known”.

Mr Wharton (whose books include the recent ‘Torn Apart: 50 Years of the Troubles, 1969-2019’) told the News Letter: “On March 8, 1989, two soldiers from the Royal Artillery were killed by a PIRA landmine on Buncranna Road in Londonderry.

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“Gunners Miles Amos (18) and Stephen Cummins (24) were victims of Martin McGuinness’ Londonderry Brigade.”

He noted that “Hampshire boy Cummins was a poet” and numerous news reports say he had left an envelope containing a poem for his parents in the event he died.

Mr Wharton added: “I was told by a former informer that McGuinness would give orders to kill to his subordinates, but would like to be close to the scene, so that he could personally observe the taking of life.

“The news therefore that the Martin McGuinness Peace Foundation intends holding a poetry competition comes as a breathtaking surprise.

“He was not a poet and nor was he a man of peace.

“This is yet one more example of Sinn Fein’s false narrative of re-writing the history of the Troubles to suit their new ‘respectable’ image.

“It is an obscenity to rival the naming of a children’s’ playground in Newry after PIRA gunman Raymond McCreesh... to even associate him with the beautiful art of poetry is to insult the memory of those whose deaths he was responsible for.”

It comes a day after ex-UUP MLA Dermot Nesbitt (who was standing next to his friend Edgar Graham when an IRA man snuck up and shot him) and John McAllister (whose RUC stepson Clive Graham was killed in west Londonderry) also voiced concerns about how Mr McGuinness’ legacy is being portrayed.

The closing lines of the poem Cummins left his parents (which he did not pen himself, but which he presumably thought would bring them comfort) read:

When you awaken in the morning’s hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight,

I am the soft stars that shine at night,

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there. I did not die.

Poems should be submitted to [email protected] by noon on Friday, March 5, with a £1,000 prize for the winner.

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