Palestinians mourn Irish politician Martin McGuinness

In a measured statement Tuesday, May says that while she could "never condone the path" he took in early life, he nonetheless played an essential part in "the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace".

After being imprisoned for IRA membership in 1973, he became one of the most-senior leaders of Sinn Fein. With his curly reddish hair and broad bare forehead, he looked more like the singer Art Garfunkel than the cold-blooded Irish Republican Army leader that many Protestants saw.

"When he made a decision to fight for peace, Martin was calm, courageous, and direct".

"The reason he suddenly became a man of peace, was that he was desperately afraid that he was going to be arrested and charged with a number of murders", he said.

First elected as a member of the Northern Ireland assembly in 1982, McGuinness played a crucial role in keeping the more militant wing of the IRA on board as elements of the leadership secretly probed the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

"Had Mr McGuinness latterly not concentrated his efforts on outreach, the coverage of his death would have been decidedly more modest, focusing exclusively on his role as leading IRA activist rather than a peacemaker".

Priest Gary Donegan hailed Mr McGuinness' contribution to the peace process as he addressed the vigil.

"I don't think the majority of people - to be quite honest - care".

He said: "We'd had at one end of the scale the godfather of the Provisional IRA, and at the other end of the scale the man who became pivotal, as our party leader has said, in being in the government of Northern Ireland and of bringing republicans to that point where peace was the way forward".

"He was very focussed on building a better Ireland for all our people and reached out to former political opponents and foes in the cause of peace".

The decision to share power was a key part of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

During their time in office as first and deputy first minister, Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness earned the nickname the "Chuckle brothers". It is understood he had been suffering from a rare heart condition.

McGuinness grew up in Derry, the epicenter of "The Troubles", Northern Ireland's decades' long sectarian conflict.

In 2012, McGuinness said the attack was "appalling and indefensible".

Former first minister Arlene Foster, whose party was humiliated in the vote and whose father narrowly escaped alive from an IRA shooting, also paid her respects.

Some were less forgiving.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Tebbit, who was injured and whose wife was paralysed by an IRA bomb in Brighton's Grand Hotel in 1984, described Mr McGuinness as "a coward".

"Looking back on history there are many things we all wish was different but we are where we are and we must focus on the positives and Martin McGuinness's involvement in the Peace process was just that".

Such gestures alienated many former comrades who call him a traitor for helping to run the province while the Union Jack was still flying over it. McGuinness countered it was a stepping stone to their goal of a united Ireland.

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council is opening a book of condolence in Banbridge "for people to acknowledge the sad passing" of Martin McGuinness, the Lord Mayor Garath Keating has said.

  • Leroy Wright