Friday 13 December 2019

Lone piper brings Ian Paisley to final place of rest after private funeral

The coffin of former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader and First Minister Rev Ian Paisley is carried to his grave at the Free Presbyterian Church in Ballygowan, Northern Ireland. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
The coffin of former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader and First Minister Rev Ian Paisley is carried to his grave at the Free Presbyterian Church in Ballygowan, Northern Ireland. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
The coffin of former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader and First Minister Rev Ian Paisley is carried to his grave at the Free Presbyterian Church in Ballygowan, Northern Ireland. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
The coffin of former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader and First Minister Rev Ian Paisley is carried to his grave at the Free Presbyterian Church in Ballygowan, Northern Ireland. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
The coffin of former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader and First Minister Rev Ian Paisley is carried to his grave at the Free Presbyterian Church in Ballygowan, Northern Ireland. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Irish President Michael D Higgins (left) shares a joke with Ian Paisley

Press Association

A lone piper led a handful of close family mourners at the graveyard at Ballygowan Free Presbyterian Church after a funeral service at Dr Paisley's home in east Belfast.

His successor as North Antrim MP, son Ian Jnr, helped carry his coffin from the hearse a few metres into a white tent which covered the newly-dug grave.

It lies on the brow of a hill overlooking a country road in the hills south of Belfast, a short distance from his home city - a city which once reverberated to his oratory and where thousands flocked to hear his message.

As the private funeral took place, Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson paid tribute to the late Mr Paisley as the undisputed leader of unionism.

Read more here: 'Shocked and saddened' - the reaction to Ian Paisley's death 

Political parties from all sides offered heartfelt thoughts of the churchman and politician's legacy at a special sitting of the Stormont Assembly as the family held a private funeral in Belfast.

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness
Irish President Michael D Higgins (left) shares a joke with Ian Paisley
Liam Neeson with Ian Paisley last year
Bertie Ahern, Eileen Paisley and Ian Paisley

Mr Robinson said the founder of the Democratic Unionists was head and shoulders above all others.

"Ian Paisley was a remarkable man whose long career in public life has left an indelible mark on all of us who knew him," the First Minister said.

"The 'Big Man' as he was known, provided firm and decisive leadership when unionism lacked it most and needed it most."

Mr Robinson said the task of remembering and paying lasting tributes to Mr Paisley was daunting and that no words could properly do it justice.

The Paisley family held a private service at their home on Cyprus Avenue in Belfast this morning before burial in Ballygowan, Co Down.

A public memorial service will be held later in the year, the family have said.

Books of condolences were opened today in the City Hall in Belfast and also at Stormont.

Mr Paisley died last Friday at the age of 88.

Read more here: In his own words . . . Ian Paisley 

The former first minister and former unionist leader was a firebrand fundamentalist Protestant preacher and polarising figure whose vehement opposition to dealing with the IRA and extreme anti-Catholic rhetoric was legendary.

The bellicose symbol of unionist defiance was famous for bellowing ''never, never, never'' during a mass protest against Irish government involvement in Northern Ireland affairs in the 1980s.

He helped wreck earlier attempts at political accord, became the ultimate protest figure and promised to smash Sinn Fein.

But, in a potent symbol of the ground covered by political negotiations which largely ended violence, he entered government with republicans in 2007 as Stormont's first minister after republicans lent their support to the police.

Eventually his partnership with the former IRA commander and current Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the head of government led to them being dubbed the Chuckle Brothers.

Read more here: Paisley's eventual journey was as remarkable as the man himself 

Mr McGuinness said his professional relationship and friendship with Mr Paisley - the source of much irritation in some sections of unionism and republicanism - should provide food for thought with the Stormont Executive dogged by political stalemate.

The Sinn Fein chief said he would leave history to determine Mr Paisley's legacy.

"I can only talk about my own experience with him," Mr McGuinness said.

"From the word go for some reason we hit it off.

"We grew to like each other and that, incredible for people undoubtedly who for many decades intensely disliked each other. But we genuinely grew to like each other and in doing so we confounded the world. He certainly made a huge effort."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams signed the book of condolence at the City Hall.

"Many families who suffered the worst excesses of sectarianism may take issue with this, but Ian Paisley is due recognition for reaching agreement with Irish republicans on a peaceful future for all of our people and for the way he fulfilled his role as first minister, alongside Martin McGuinness," Mr Adams said.

"Together they proved that politics can work and that unionists and republicans working together could make political progress and overcome significant political difficulties."

Mr Adams said Mr Paisley's legacy is a huge challenge for all politicians in Northern Ireland and the current unionist leadership.

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