During Good Relations Week, organised by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council in partnership with Omagh Interfaith Group, Reverend David Latimer led a public talk at Mahon’s Hotel, Irvinestown based on his book ‘A Leap of Faith,’ which captures the importance of building bridges between faiths for a shared future and his friendship with Martin McGuinness.

Ahead of the talk, the minister of First Derry Presbyterian Church and Monreagh in County Donegal spoke to The Impartial Reporter about how he, a former British Army Chaplain, formed a bond “closer than brothers” with a former IRA leader as a result of a hate attack intended to create division.

Located on the walls of Derry-Londonderry adjacent to the Bogside, Rev. Latimer explained that First Derry Presbyterian Church was “on the front line” during The Troubles.

“In 1983 the church was burned, it was frequently being attacked but in 2006, when there was an air of normality because the Good Friday Agreement had been signed and we were progressively moving in a different direction, the guns were silenced, the army was off the streets, but one evening the façade of First Derry which is quite impressive, was covered in paint.”

Noting that this type of attack had happened to the church in the past, Rev. Latimer said that on this particular occasion he felt that he had to do something.

“The morning after I went up to BBC Radio Foyle and I was given an opportunity to share my concerns with the whole city and of course in that interview I reveal that there is only one person who can sort it,” said Rev. Latimer.

He went on to share that after being pushed further by the journalist conducting the interview, Rev. Latimer revealed that it was Martin McGuinness.

“The surprise in all of that is within 20 minutes of me being on the radio, my phone rings and it’s Sinn Fein asking me if I would be willing to meet Martin McGuinness. Obviously he had heard the interview and I said yes and the next morning, on the steps of First Derry Martin McGuinness and I met for the first time,” shared Rev. Latimer.

He told The Impartial Reporter: “So that’s how it began and nobody, least Martin and myself could ever have expected that it would have been anything more than a conversation to discuss the congregation’s worries over paint being splashed on the church.

Sometimes the best relationships that you have in your life are the ones you never see coming, the ones you don’t expect.”

“That meeting together for the first time, at First Derry in 2006 evolved into a friendship that brought us closer than brothers within a family. We just had an astonishingly genuine friendship for the next 12 years,” Rev. Latimer added.

Calling it a “bumpy journey” that he and Martin travelled together, Rev. Latimer explained that it was only after Martin had died that it was suggested that he write a book about their “unusual and unique” friendship.

“I was a former British Army Chaplain who served in Afghanistan, Martin a former leader of the IRA, you couldn’t make it up. Two opposites.

Him wanting to see a United Ireland come into place and here’s me a unionist, happy with being part of the United Kingdom. He was Catholic, I was Protestant. Religiously, culturally and socially we were on different planets but the thing that unites us wherever we are is our common humanity,” he said.

With the support of the McGuinness family and the Derry Journal, Rev. Latimer wrote the book ‘A Leap of Faith’ sharing details of his and Martin’s friendship as well as telling the story of the man Martin became.

“He was radicalised by a result of the demographics in Derry-Londonderry as a young man in the sixties. He doesn’t shy away from the fact that he was in the IRA but then something amazing happens to him, he transitions to such an extent that another way of trying to resolve the complexities of Northern Ireland emerges and that’s through politics,” said Rev. Latimer adding: “Martin was passionate about working to ensure that there would never be a need for guns and bombs and violence and pain and loss, that it could be done through peaceful means and reaching out.”

When asked about his thoughts on the current state of peace in Northern Ireland, Rev. Latimer commented: “You could get depressed and almost conclude that all the good work that was done is being erased by the complexities of Brexit and the disarray at Stormont of politicians unwilling to come in but then I think we have to appreciate that, something that President Kennedy said.

He goes on to say peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly, a yearly thing that slowly erodes old barriers and builds new structures.”

He continued: “It’s a daily struggle and I think we have to remember that peace, words of peace are like seeds you drop into the ground in a garden, they don’t pop up overnight, they take a while for the shoots to come up but through the coldness of winter and through the wet and with the sun the shoots come up so we must keep on planting our words of peace and keep on encouraging people to reflect back on the way Martin did it because he was very, very different.”

Rev. Latimer added: “I just believe that the maker of all of us, whether we are Catholic or Protestant, gay, straight, able-bodied or disabled, there is somebody behind it all and whatever we want to call him, I’ll call him God, had a job for Martin to do, took him away on a journey. He had a bendy journey but nobody’s life is a straight line.

“Mine isn’t a straight line and it’s how we finish. He showed us that we have to release all bitterness and all hatred and empty our lives of everything that would build walls, to allow us to do what we keep on needing to do and that’s travel together because together is the best place to be.”

Highlighting how all royalties from the book go to the North West Cancer Centre, Rev. Latimer noted that the first edition of the book sold out.

“It’s just lovely to garner support and to allow in it’s own way to tell the story and allow people to see that we don’t just give up, we persevere in the pursuit of peace,” he told this newspaper.