Belfast Telegraph

The Ian Paisley I knew

Six people give their personal views of the man who touched their lives over his long career.

I’ll always cherish the memories of his days as a mighty preacher

Rev Ivan Foster, Free Presbyterian Minister:

It is said of many great men that God broke the mould, but Ian Paisley was unique. His legacy has sown confusion among those who are trying to sum him up.

Ian Paisley was a man of great convictions but also a very personable man.

As a conversationalist he was supreme. The memories of the man that I would wish to retain and cherish are those of his days as a mighty preacher when it was my privilege to sit under his ministry in gospel missions in tents and halls from one end of Northern Ireland to the other.

Those were days of conversions, of God’s people separating from the apostasy of the ecumenical churches and an exposing of the Rome-ward trend.

Those days will receive scant mention in the profiles of Dr Paisley which will feature prominently in the Northern Ireland news media over the next few days.

But they will be the memories cherished by a very large, though diminishing, number of people in Ulster who supported and prayed for Dr Paisley over the years.

My favourite memory was my time in prison with him in 1966. I was a student and the antics and the pleasures that we had during those three months in the Crumlin Road will stay with me.

The things I learned I will never forget, and the memories I have I will cherish for ever.

Protestant or Catholic, they were all treated with the same respect

Rev David McIlveen, Retired Free Presbyterian Minister:

I first met Dr Paisley in 1965 whenever he was preaching in the old Ravenhill church. I had just become a Christian and I was greatly impressed by his prayer, maybe more at that time than his preaching.

I had never heard anyone pray in the way he prayed — it was such a personal relationship he had with God, I hadn’t heard anything like this before.

It had a great influence on shaping me and forming me.

He was an inspiration for me and many in our churches across the world. The Free Presbyterian Church would probably not have been known across the world had it not been for the ministry of Dr Paisley.

I have many, many fond memories, but the simplest was his great spirit of weeping with people and rejoicing with people who rejoiced.

I stood with him many times in homes where bereavement had entered, whether it was Protestant or Roman Catholic. He expressed the same degree of sympathy and tender support. This was during the times of the Troubles whenever police officers were being murdered. I learnt so much in his dealings with people. He was a man of great compassion, tenderness and grace. I think his legacy would be in the preaching of the gospel because there are many people in Northern Ireland whose lives were changed through his preaching.

Whether it was in the prison, public life or just the ordinary domains, there are many people who were greatly touched. His legacy is personified in the people reached with the gospel.

He was an inspirational colossus

Lord Morrow, Chairman of the DUP:

I am devastated by the passing of Lord Bannside. While this is a day we all have to face and which he did not fear, I am struggling to come to terms with it.

He and I travelled many a political and personal journey together, and he always provided wise counsel, profound trust and unshakeable faith.

He was a colossus on the political landscape in Ulster. No one else comes close. He was also a renowned preacher. He was fearless and steadfast in defence of standing up for what he believed in. In these two aspects of his life he was inspirational.

My acquaintance with Lord Bannside goes back to 1964 when he conducted a gospel mission at Laghey, Killyman.

I joined the DUP at its formation and realised he had a zeal and determination which was unrivalled. I am doubtful if anyone had greater love for their country. To say it's the end of an era is a gross understatement.

He was also a man of huge compassion, and he instilled that in others. His life made him the lead figure in the history of Northern Ireland politics, and that can never be written out.

I extend my sympathies to Baroness Paisley and the family. May they take comfort from the fact their sorrow is shared.

Lord Bannside was my mentor, my confidante and, most importantly, my friend. His passing is a terrible loss, but I am grateful he is at peace. It is up to the rest of us to ensure he is never forgotten.

Not now but in the coming years, we will read the meaning of our tears and, sometime, we will understand.

It’s been a privilege to know him

Sammy Wilson, East Antrim MP:

His death to me represents more than the passing of a former party leader and political colleague. Dr Paisley was far more than that.

He was a friend, a mentor, an advisor, an encourager and an inspiration.

Through my father, who preached along with him, I have known him since I was a boy and never thought that one day I would share in government with him.

Over the years, it has been a privilege to have benefited from his kindness, wisdom and encouragement and to have learned from him the importance of being straightforward and honest with the electorate.

All of us who served under his leadership saw a man who, no matter how often he was attacked for his uncompromising stand on issues which were important to him, never flinched or softened his message just to gain a good press.

That is why people trusted him and why, five times in a row, they gave him the highest vote in European Elections. At the same time, he showed that when hard decisions needed to be made to give the people of Northern Ireland a secure and peaceful future, he was prepared to risk everything because the good of the country was always the most important thing to him.

I will miss him but have happy memories of the laughter he brought into a room, the resolution he gave to people who sometimes were afraid for the future and the strength of character of a man who loved his country and gave a lifetime of service to it.

Difficult, unrepentant, and dangerous... with a soft, conciliatory side

Deric Henderson, Former Ireland Editor of PA:

Ian Paisley once accused me of being a republican. We were sitting at his knee on the first floor of the Europa Hotel in Belfast, just hours after he and Peter Robinson and a couple of other DUP supporters had returned from Dublin where under the cover of darkness, they had plastered ‘Ulster Is British’ posters on the GPO Building.

It was May 1984 and the aftermath of another classic Paisley hit-and-run stunt.

He could throw snowballs at a visiting taoiseach in the grounds of Parliament Buildings, or lead a crowd to the top of a windy Co Antrim mountain top in the dead of night to wave gun licences in a menacing act of protest.

He knew how to work a room, especially when the media were around. Unlike virtually all unionists, he had charisma and social skills to disarm even those who detested him.

But here we were, this time facing each other across a coffee table being debriefed and he was in no mood for a hostile process of interrogation.

“Sure you’re only a republican,” he thundered when questions became a little tense.

Two days later I challenged him on the fringes of his annual party conference at the La Mon House Hotel in the Castlereagh hills to seek an apology for an unwarranted and unjustified accusation. He withdrew it without hesitation. He took me aside and whispered: “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said it.”

That was the Paisley I knew. Difficult, challenging, unrepentant, uncompromising, dangerous and at times downright nasty. But there was also a soft and conciliatory side to him. It’s such a shame his enemies, and indeed many of his supporters, didn’t always see it.

Mr No became Mr Yes to deliver us all from horror to lasting peace

Peter Hain, Former Secretary of State:

Given Ian Paisley’s firebrand, bitterly divisive reputation, it was a surprise to me when appointed Secretary of State in 2005 to discover a warm, courteous, venerable gentleman with old-fashioned manners, a devoted family man who loved banter and humour.

In our private meetings, often one-to-one — which later worried his senior DUP colleagues — he signalled he might well do the unthinkable and strike an agreement with his most bitter enemies Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

They had however to sign up to support policing, justice and the rule of law which they had never done. Then the IRA renounced its war in July 2005.

By February 2007 when Sinn Fein supported policing, Ian saw himself as a man of destiny

“I feel I have to do this,” he told me. “It’s my duty, and I know God is willing me on.”

Many of his followers, whom he had long led in an uncompromising stance, remained very suspicious, some openly hostile.

But, by then at least, he believed that an historic window had opened and that, if he didn’t seize the moment, it might close, never to open again. Mr No had become Mr Yes.

There wasn’t any other Protestant leader who could have done that. Some had been defeated, often by Paisley himself, when trying.

He became the indispensable figure to deliver Northern Ireland from horror and evil, to a new era of peace and stability.

We should all salute him for that.

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