Belfast Telegraph

Ian Paisley death: Devoted family man, his children were in awe of him

By Jane Hardy

Ian Richard Kyle Paisley was brought up in Ballymena, Northern Ireland's bible belt. He was born in Armagh on April 6, 1926 to Isabella Paisley, his Scottish mother, and James Kyle Paisley, an Independent Baptist pastor who had served under Edward Carson with the Ulster Volunteers.

Isabella was a great influence on the little boy and is credited as having encouraged his evangelical conversion at the age of six. Ian Paisley would later remember listening to a sermon given by his mother about Jesus Christ, the good shepherd, and the lost sheep. After the service, young Ian remained behind and told his mother: "I don't want to be a lost sheep, I want to be a saved lamb".

They knelt down together at a pew in the church and he said "at that spot I found Jesus Christ as my saviour and Lord".

When the church was renovated, Paisley asked for the same pew to be moved to the front hall of his east Belfast home as a tribute to his mother.

Isabella Paisley had a reputation for being quick-tempered, determined and abrasive, rather like her son, and puritanical in her beliefs, also like her son.

The fact that Ian Paisley would later recount the story of his father James's role in the bitter fight against Home Rule and show people his bandolier and rifle, mementoes of an earlier Ulster Says No campaign, indicate that his father also played a significant role in shaping his destiny.

After studying at the Model School, Ballymena, Paisley went to work on a farm in Sixmilecross, Co Tyrone.

The famous preacher started delivering sermons as a teenager and during this period, he felt he received a vocation to enter the Christian ministry. So Ian Paisley studied theology at the fundamentalist Barry School of Evangelism and in 1946, Ian was ordained by his father.

Perhaps the most important relationship in Ian Paisley's long life was with his wife Eileen, whom he called "The Boss". Their long and happy marriage underpinned his political and theological career and in good times and not so good times, Eileen was steadfastly by his side.

Ian met Eileen Cassells when she was a teenager and he asked her to help with his magazine, The Revivalist.

Never indecisive, he proposed to her on their third date and said he "liked her so much he lost track of time".

The 17-year-old thought for a while before saying yes, and they were married on October 13, 1956.

Like her husband, Eileen has always had a keen interest in politics and was elected to Belfast City Council in 1967, where she served for seven years.

The closeness of their relationship has always been evident, even in small details such as how Baroness Paisley buttoned his waistcoat as they were photographed before the Rev Paisley said goodbye to his Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian congregation during a farewell service.

In his final interview for a BBC NI documentary, broadcast at the start of this year, viewers were given an insight into his family life and the Paisleys' strong, enduring relationship. Always ready to jump to her husband's defence, the two-part interview heard claims that Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds had given Paisley deadlines for his departure from his roles as first minister and DUP leader, leading Baroness Paisley to describe Dodds as "a cheeky sod". She also took a swipe at Robinson, branding his family a source of "sleaze". And she didn't hold back on her views about his departure as moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church and as preacher at Martyrs Memorial.

Mrs Paisley not only branded her husband's treatment as "iniquitous, nasty, ungodly and un-Christian", but said the heartbreak it caused him had made him ill.

"He was doing a good job, as he had done all his life," she told the documentary.

"There was nothing to stop him continuing with that and continuing his position as first minister. But the poison had been laid, and spread, and that was the damage that had been done."

The Paisleys had five children, Sharon, born in 1957, Rhonda, born in 1959, Cherith, born in 1965, and twins Ian Paisley jnr and Kyle, born in 1966.

The children grew up against the backdrop of the Troubles and were used to the security measures that surrounded their father. Their then home in east Belfast was bombed and Ian was shot at while out driving with one of their sons.

Ian's parenting style was fairly strict, although he has said that that wasn't the case.

"There is an impression that Ian Paisley ruled his family with an iron rod. (But) I never wanted my children to be my clones. I wanted each of them to be their own person, to form their own views, guided by scripture of course."

Rhonda Paisley admitted her father's tough moral stance occasionally made it difficult for her boyfriends.

She said: "They might have felt they had to get me home early, and didn't want to come in as they might have different views from my father." In fact, after a career in politics and the arts, Rhonda returned to the family fold and worked as her father's assistant while he was an MEP.

With a dominant personality as your father, you either feel overshadowed or inspired. Ian Paisley jnr has said being the Big Man's son was hard at times.

"Having a dad like ours is a burden as well as an honour," he said.

He added that it had "a psychological effect" on them all as children. "Either you rebel or become involved. I chose the latter."

The religious and political Paisley genes are strong and eventually, three out of Paisley's five children followed him into politics or the church.

Kyle Paisley became a Free Presbyterian clergyman, Ian Paisley jnr is MP for North Antrim, and Rhonda served as a DUP councillor in the 1980s and was Lady Mayoress when Sammy Wilson, her then boyfriend, served as Lord Mayor in 1986-7.

This man with the Old Testament oratory adapted to the role of grandfather with ease. His and Eileen's first grandchild, Lydia, the daughter of their eldest daughter Sharon Huddleston, was born in 1986.

When their daughter Cherith produced a son, Andrew Paisley-Caldwell, in 1992, the patriarch expressed his views that he would like him to become a preacher.

The Paisleys have 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and they will all have memories of the Big Man. Indeed Leah, the youngest grandchild, might even just remember walking on the first minister's desk in her doting grandad's Stormont office.

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