Queen to shake hand of IRA

There will be a moment of history this week when Queen Elizabeth shakes hands with Martin McGuinness, first deputy minister of the north of Ireland.

The piquancy of the occasion is that McGuinness was the former chief of staff of the IRA when it was accused of blowing up the Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten.

Mountbatten and three others were killed in 1979 when a bomb exploded on their boat off the coast of Sligo as the result of a monumental security blunder which has never been explained publicly.

The scheduled handshake between Mrs Windsor, head of the established Protestant church, and McGuinness, will occur during a visit to the British province of Ulster as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Its symbolism is rivetingly interesting and adds further weight to the theory that the 86-year-old is doing the rounds – and writing history – before her abdication.

McGuinness was  a guest at the NSW Parliament in 2001 when Liverpool MP, Paul Lynch, now the shadow attorney-general, hosted a dinner in his honor.

The Liberal Party’s religious bigots and the bug-eyed scribblers from News Ltd went into meltdown condemning the Sinn Fein leader and his parliamentary hosts.

Ultra-conservative Catholics of the Tony (Mad Monk) Abbott variety were little better and shunned his visit as well as those by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

McGuinness and Adams, reviled by Margaret Thatcher and John Howard, brokered the peace accord with the Protestant majority, including the Rev Ian Paisley, and delivered the province a new era of relative peace, calm and social progress.  (McGuinness and Paisley are nicknamed “the Chuckle Brothers” because of their apparent relish for each other’s company).

Victoria’s jubilee

I am reminded of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Free street feasts were laid on for 400,000 of London’s poorest citizens and 100,000 of Manchester’s.

While there appear to be just as many people homeless and living below the poverty line in 2012, there were no giveaway meals this time.

Prime Minister David Cameron, a former public relations executive, is keen to show that London, which will soon host the Olympics, is the … ahem … “wealth-creating capital of the world”.

The great Irish nationalist James Connolly was unimpressed by Victoria’s jubilee celebrations describing them as “a feast of flunkeyism”. He wrote:

“Join your voice with ours in protesting against the base assumption that we owe this empire any other debt than that of hatred of all its plundering institutions.”

The Scottish-born Marxist was shot by a British army firing squad after leading the Easter Uprising in Dublin in 1916.

What’s in a name?

My name has gone viral in cyberworld (UK).  No, not me but the name Alex Mitchell.

I refer to the Alex Mitchell (no relation) who died in 1975 while watching an episode of The Goodies on British television at his home in King’s Lynn, Norfolk.

This particular Alex Mitchell, born in Edinburgh, suffered a heart attack when he fell into fits of uncontrollable laughter – and his death made headlines in Britain and around the world.

It was the Kung Fu Capers episode which did him in. It featured Bill Oddie as a blackbelt in the little-known Lancastrian martial art of Ecky Thump.

Tim Brooke-Taylor played a Scotsman who defended himself with a set of bagpipes.

I was living in England at the time and endured weeks of ribbing about the fate of my namesake.

Stories about his bizarre death were resurrected this week when his granddaughter, Lisa Corke, 23, suffered a near-fatal cardiac arrest at her home in Kent.

She was later diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome which doctors think could have also caused her grandfather’s death.

“His death has been talked about for years and made all the papers at the time,” said Mrs Corke. “I never knew him but it’s strange to think we both had this condition.”

Happily, I don’t think I am likely to suffer the same fate as my namesake. I don’t find The Goodies at all funny.


  1. There is absolutely no evidence that McGuinness was the IRA's Chief of Staff. He has asserted that he was a Captain in the IRA in Derry, which accords with information at the time of my interview with him in the Bogside in the 1970's. Perpetuating this myth denies history the truth.

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