People were Adrian Ismay's priority without exception - if ever he could help, he would
Outside a tiny church in Belfast yesterday, the distraught relatives of murdered prison officer Adrian 'Izzy' Ismay clung desperately to each other for support at his funeral.
A minister told mourners that the part-time search and rescue volunteer would have been deeply upset by the loss of five family members in the Buncrana drowning tragedy at the weekend.
Sharon Ismay wiped away tears as she gathered her three daughters - one of whom is pregnant - around her along with her grandchildren, before mourners carried her husband's coffin away from Woodvale Methodist Church.
They were led by a lone piper who played one of Mr Ismay's favourite tunes, Highland Wedding.
Hundreds of Mr Ismay's prison officer colleagues were at the funeral, along with a number of people whom the English-born Falklands War veteran had rescued or searched for in emergency call-outs down the years.
And it was those roles - with the Community Rescue Service (CRS) and previously with St John Ambulance - that prompted Methodist Church President Rev Brian Anderson to remember the five members of the McGrotty family from Londonderry, who died in Sunday night's tragic accident in Donegal.
He said: "I suspect the awful deeds that happened in Buncrana would have bothered Izzy."
The sentiment was echoed by Mr Ismay's colleagues, who revealed that of the last 250 call-outs for the CRS, the murdered man had attended 200 of them.
Security had been tight across Belfast for Mr Ismay's funeral.
From breakfast-time in east Belfast the PSNI sealed off Hillsborough Drive where Mr Ismay lived and where he sustained the injuries which were to lead to his unexpected death, 11 days after a bomb partially exploded under his van.
The cortege didn't pass the spot where the explosion happened and which is now a virtual shrine to his memory, with dozens of flowers hanging from lampposts. Instead, a hearse carrying Mr Ismay's coffin drove down the Castlereagh Road preceded by four PSNI motorcycle outriders and through the city centre to the church in Cambrai Street. Visits to Maghaberry, Hydebank and Magilligan jails had been cancelled, to allow as many prison officers as possible to attend the funeral service. It was relayed to a nearby church hall and to the streets outside, because the church simply couldn't cope with the number of mourners.
Many of Mr Ismay's friends and colleagues struggled to contain their emotions as his widow Sharon arrived with her daughters Sarah, Tori and Samantha, who suffers from Down's Syndrome.
Tori had written in a death notice: "I have lost, Heaven has gained the most wonderful Daddy this world contained."
Mr Ismay's three grandchildren were at the service and it was said that he was eagerly anticipating the arrival of a fourth grandchild within a few weeks. Mourners also heard that Mr Ismay had been looking forward to the wedding of his daughter Tori and her fiance Kyle and to a family holiday in Florida.
One of Mr Ismay's brothers-in-law, Ron Abrahams, delivered a powerful and emotional eulogy which he described as one of the hardest and saddest things he'd ever had to do.
He said Carlisle-born Mr Ismay was a big man with a big heart. He added that he had come to Northern Ireland as a Royal Navy officer who had been decorated for his service in the Falklands War on HMS Minerva and HMS Illustrious.
Mr Ismay met his Ulster-born future wife Sharon at a function on board HMS Caroline in 1984, marrying her three years later.
Mr Abrahams said his brother in law was an honorary Ulsterman and a fanatical supporter of the province's rugby team, as well as a season ticket holder at the Kingspan stadium not far from his home. Mr Abrahams said that away from his work with the Prison Service, which he joined in 1987, Mr Ismay was generous with his time with the Scouting movement, the St John Ambulance organisation and Community Rescue Service.
"If he could help, he would. He never distinguished people by religion, race or colour. People were his priority without exception and he threw himself whole-heartedly into every activity he participated in," he said. "And he never expected anything of anyone that he didn't expect of himself."
Mourners applauded Mr Abrahams and afterwards the Woodvale minister the Rev Colin Duncan added his voice to the tributes. He said Mr Ismay had been involved in many difficult incidents during his years with St John Ambulance, particularly at the North West 200 motorcycle races on the north coast.
Mr Duncan also said that his work as a search and rescue worker was extremely important to him and he disclosed that he had once responded to a call as he and his family prepared to sit down to their Christmas dinner.
He added: "He was a man of big stature and big personality. And he had a great sense of humour and quick wit." The Scots-born clergyman continued: "Let's give thanks for Izzy's life, this man who touched so many people in so many different ways; this man who has left behind a legacy in the way that he has served the community and served his country, in the Royal Navy, the Prison Service, St John Ambulance and the Community Rescue Service."
On top of Mr Ismay's coffin were his Prison Service cap and gloves, along with a number of his Royal Navy and St John Ambulance medals.
The lone piper led mourners out of the church and down the Shankill Road to Roselawn crematorium. It was a private service and journalists observed the Ismay family's request to stay away from Roselawn.
A number of reporters representing national newspapers and media organisations had turned up to cover the funeral service at Woodvale Methodist Church.
But the early interest from news desks across the water in the resurgence of the 'new IRA' in Northern Ireland quickly dissipated after the return of global terrorism in Brussels.