There was a time when McGuinness was barred from making such a trip and Paisley, while he enjoyed rights of entry to the U.S., tended to veer off into corners of the country where his more bigoted instincts would be reconfirmed and reinforced.
This visit, however, promises to be different, very different indeed. The highlight of the week’s stay will be a meeting with President Bush at the White House.
The Bush administration has been diligent in staying on top of the roller coaster that has been the peace process in recent years and the president well deserves his place in what will be a historical gathering.
Throughout the long and sustained effort to nail down peace and relatively normal politics in Northern Ireland, American soil has consistently proven itself to be fertile ground for visiting politicians from all sides in the North.
It will be hard not to view the Paisley/McGuinness visit as a final affirmation, a seal on all that has been accomplished.
As Paisley and McGuinness depart America they should be hearing two things: an invitation to come back, and advice to the effect that there is no going back.
Looking a little further ahead, Pope Benedict will set foot in America this coming April.
Without doubt the most poignant moments of papal time on American ground will be spent at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
A benediction from Benedict in this sacred and tragic place will do much for the most directly bereaved, of all faiths, and Americans everywhere who have looked forward to the moment when a small corner of America, once desecrated by the most unmerciful savagery, might again be blessed with the prospects of a renewed and brighter future.