Belfast Telegraph

Ian Paisley's legacy will live long in memory despite low-key burial

Editor's Viewpoint

For a man who spent his life addressing crowds of hundreds and often thousands, Ian Paisley's last journey was remarkably low-key. Only a handful of people accompanied his coffin from his home to the hillside in a country churchyard where he was laid to rest.

They were ultimately the people who meant most to the self-professed leader of unionism – his wife, sons and daughters and close family circle.

Like many, but not all media outlets, this newspaper respected the wishes of the Paisley family to allow them to hold a private funeral service.

They were certainly the people who grieved most at his passing. For the man who had lambasted every other unionist leader for nigh on 50 years if they dared show any sign of compromising with nationalists or republicans, found in his declining years that his own ultimate agreement to go into government with Sinn Fein baffled his supporters and angered more than a few.

It was also clear that his relationship with many in the party he had founded, the DUP, and in his own Free Presbyterian Church, had soured to an extent which would previously have been unthinkable. Whether that played any part in the decision to hold only a private funeral service is something only his family can answer with certainty.

Yet it is also remarkable that a man, who had divided opinion so extremely for much of his life, should in death bring such positive comments from right across the political spectrum. Part of the reason, of course, was his role in creating a more stable power-sharing administration, but also because of his personal character.

He could be a very likeable person in private, the polar opposite of his ranting, calculating and sometimes sinister public political persona. Indeed, the magnanimity displayed by so many in their tributes was in marked contrast to the bitter comments Mr Paisley had uttered in the past about some Catholic Church leaders on their deaths.

Yet, in another contradiction, there have been countless testimonies to his work as an MP, MLA and MEP in which he represented all constituents with equal fervour.

Ian Paisley often compared himself to Lord Edward Carson as the savour and defender of unionism. Certainly in his oratory and stature as a public figure there were certain resemblances.

Both also played hugely influential roles in the history of Northern Ireland, but which was the most effective?

Strangely, it could well be Ian Paisley, the man who said "no" for so many years and who was never an entirely popular figure among the establishment or middle-class unionists, who secured the greater guarantees for the Union. That is a legacy he would certainly be proud of.

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