Ian Paisley funeral: Simple send-off for the man who risked it all for peace
Paisley's funeral to be an intensely private occasion
Ian Paisley will be laid to rest today after a private service attended only by his immediate family - the simplest of ends for one of the most iconic yet complex figures in Northern Irish history.
His remains will be taken from the family home at Cyprus Avenue in east Belfast to a quiet graveyard in Co Down.
His final journey will take place away from the public spotlight, in keeping with the family's wishes.
DUP leader Peter Robinson and other senior party figures will not be present.
Mr Paisley, who had been ill for some time, passed away on Friday morning. He was 88.
A dominant figure in British politics for half a century, he underwent a remarkable journey from protest leader to peacemaker, becoming first minister in 2007 after agreeing an historic power-sharing deal with Sinn Fein.
Martin McGuinness, the former IRA commander who served alongside Mr Paisley as deputy first minister, was among hundreds of people who signed books of condolence at the weekend.
Mr McGuinness wrote: "In rising above old enmities, we pointed the way to a better and peaceful future. The peace process and I have lost a friend."
Books of condolence were opened in several other towns and cities, including Ballymena, Newtownabbey and Lisburn.
The one at Belfast City Hall will open this morning.
A book of condolence will also be opened at Stormont, where speaker William Hay will lead MLAs in tributes before business is adjourned as a mark of respect.
Mr Paisley served as MLA for North Antrim between 1998 and 2011. He was MP for the area for 30 years, and MEP from 1979 to 2004. After stepping down as first minister in 2008, Mr Paisley's public appearances became less frequent as ill health took its toll. His health had deteriorated significantly in recent weeks.
One of the last people to visit him was Rev David McIlveen, his close friend for 50 years.
The Rev McIlveen, who first met Mr Paisley in 1965, said he was in good spirits in his last weeks.
"He was very peaceful – very content and very tranquil," he said.
"He never complained and everyone who had to attend to him, whether it was family or close friends, found him to be very co-operative. He was just a real joy to be with."
Yesterday, people attending Sunday service at Martyrs Memorial, the church Mr Paisley helped to found, spoke of their sadness at his passing.
Earlier, the Free Presbyterian Church paid tribute to Mr Paisley, who served as moderator from 1951 to 2008.
In a statement, the church said it learned of his death "with deep sadness and regret".
Tributes were also paid by senior figures from other faiths.
Noel Treanor, the Bishop of Down and Connor, said that Mr Paisley was a man marked by strong convictions and evangelical zeal, fearless in taking a principled stand on many issues.
"Whilst his historic legacy in terms of his interaction with the Catholic community was at times controversial, his contribution to the search for peace and political stability in Northern Ireland was, in the end, crucial," he said.
Harold Miller, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Dromore, said Mr Paisley was a remarkably gifted but also a remarkably challenging leader over the last half century.
"It was wonderful to see his gifts used to deliver something of the new world of power-sharing in which we now live," he said.
News of Mr Paisley's death was released in a statement on Friday from his wife, Eileen.
She said: "We loved him and he adored us, and our earthly lives are forever changed."
A death notice placed in the Belfast Telegraph on Saturday said Mr Paisley had died peacefully at his home, "surrounded by his adored family".
It added that the funeral and burial was "very strictly private".
A public memorial service will be held later this year.
The private funeral is understood to be partly influenced by the breakdown in relations in recent years between the Paisleys and the church and party he helped to found.
However, in a death notice in today's newspaper, the DUP paid tribute to Mr Paisley, saying he had "faithfully served The Lord and his country".
Among the signatories are party leader Peter Robinson, deputy leader Nigel Dodds and chairman Lord Morrow. On Friday, Mr Robinson paid a moving tribute, describing the former first minister as the founding father of a new Northern Ireland.