Belfast Telegraph

Ian Paisley 1926-2014: A private end to a very public life

Simple funeral service for his relatives only

By Adrian Rutherford

Ian Paisley's remarkable life will be remembered at a simple family service in a private end to a career spent in the public eye.

A defining and often dividing figure in Northern Ireland's history, the former First Minister will be laid to rest after a funeral service attended by just a handful of close relatives.

It will mark the end of an extraordinary political journey of defiance to compromise, from his early years saying no to saying yes and agreeing a power-sharing deal with Sinn Fein.

As tributes flowed in, First Minister Peter Robinson described him as the founding father of a new Northern Ireland.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who was Paisley's partner in government, said: "I have lost a friend."

Paisley passed away yesterday morning aged 88. He had been in failing health for some time. A death notice said the great-grandfather was "surrounded by his adored family" when he died and that his home, funeral and burial are "very strictly private".

The news was released in a statement from Eileen Paisley, his devoted wife, who said that her husband had "entered his eternal rest".

"Although ours is the grand hope of reunion, naturally, as a family, we are heartbroken," she added.

"We loved him and he adored us, and our earthly lives are forever changed. According to Ian's wishes his funeral will be private and attended only by the immediate family, as will be his burial.

"As a family, we appreciate that there will be an expectation by those who admired him to express their gratitude for his life and their sorrow at his passing.

"To that end, we will in due course publish details of a public memorial service which will be scheduled later in the year."

It is understood the fallout from an explosive TV interview earlier this year, in which Paisley criticised the party and church he helped found, influenced the decision to keep the service private.

A towering figure in British politics for half a century, Paisley led the DUP for 37 years until he stood down in 2008, having signed an historic agreement to share power with Sinn Fein.

It marked an extraordinary volte-face from a career built on saying no. Paisley played a key role in orchestrating the Ulster Workers' Council Strike, which brought Northern Ireland to a standstill in 1973, and he was vehemently opposed to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

He also opposed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

He famously jeered the Pope in the European Parliament and threw snowballs at the car of Taoiseach Sean Lemass when he visited Stormont in the 1960s.

Paisley's decision to enter power with Sinn Fein in later years cost him friends, but it also won worldwide acclaim as Northern Ireland became a model for how to resolve conflict.

After standing down as First Minister and DUP leader, Paisley's public appearances became less less and frequent.

He had been in poor health for some time and had recovered from a serious illness in 2005 when, he later remarked, he was "walking in death's shadow".

In February 2012, Paisley spent a week on a life-support machine after developing heart problems. And just last December, he was taken to hospital for what his family said were "necessary tests". It is understood his health had deteriorated significantly in recent months.

His passing yesterday brought many tributes, with three former Prime Ministers joining David Cameron and leaders across Irish politics to praise his role in bringing a lasting peace to Northern Ireland.

David Cameron said Paisley was "one of the most forceful and instantly recognisable characters in British politics for nearly half a century".

"He will be remembered by many as the Big Man of Northern Ireland politics, and he will be greatly missed," he added.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said Paisley "began as the militant" but he had ended as a peacemaker". Peter Robinson, who succeeded Paisley as party leader and First Minister, added Ulster would never see the like of him again and called him "a giant of a human being, a true Ulsterman with an immeasurable love for the province and its people".

And Martin McGuinness said: "In the brief period that we worked together in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, I developed a close working relationship with him which developed into a friendship, which despite our many differences lasted beyond his term in office."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny also paid tribute, saying: "His devotion to his faith and to the unionist people of Northern Ireland was deep and unshakeable.

"In time, history will come to a fuller judgment of his long career. And while he was of course a divisive figure, his greatest legacy will be one of peace."

A book of condolence is available at www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk. Tributes can also be sent to paisley@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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