His most famous play, first performed in 1992, is Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, which was based loosely on the experiences of Brian Keenan and other hostages in Lebanon. Other successes have included Dolly West’s Kitchen (1999), about a family in wartime Buncrana, County Donegal; his first play, The Factory Girls (1982), which drew on his mother’s and aunts’ experiences in shirtmaking factories; and Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (1985), his dramatisation of the lives of a group of Protestant soldiers as they made their inexorable way to the horror of July 1 1916.
What draws his plays together is a generous sympathy with people’s foibles in all their forms. But McGuinness loathes sentimentality and views the notion of redemption as laughable. “Sentimentality has damaged so many writers and storytellers. And to hell with redemption. It’s not true, folks! To me, it’s like creationism. Grow up and face reality. Just grow up.”