'A fearless Ulsterman...' final farewell as victims' campaigner Willie Frazer is laid to rest
Victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer was laid to rest yesterday, with the leaders of all three main unionist parties attending his funeral.
The DUP’s Arlene Foster, Robin Swann from the Ulster Unionists and TUV leader Jim Allister all arrived at Fivemilehill Pentecostal Church in Bessbrook to pay their final respects.
Also joining hundreds of mourners were DUP MPs Gregory Campbell and Emma Little-Pengelly, former UUP MLA Danny Kennedy, former UUP leader Tom Elliott, and loyalist activist and blogger Jamie Bryson.
Mr Frazer died in Craigavon Area Hospital at the age of 58 on Friday after a long battle with cancer.
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His coffin was led into the church by a lone piper and draped in the Union flag.
A forthright, often controversial campaigner for victims of republican violence, Mr Frazer’s father Bertie and four other family members were killed by the IRA in the Armagh area during the Troubles.
In response, Mr Frazer set up the group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (Fair) in 1998 to support victims of republican violence, based in nearby Markethill.
One of his longest campaigns had been aimed at securing justice for the families of 10 Protestant workmen shot dead by republican gunmen at Kingsmill in south Armagh in 1976.
The cortege passed the scene of the massacre and family members of those murdered were among those attending.
Mr Frazer had many supporters in the loyalist community, but was seen as divisive by many republicans and nationalists, and often had disagreements with unionist politicians, feeling many had given in to terrorism.
He once said he had received enough death threats in his life to paper the walls of his house, due to his outspoken comments.
Addressing the crowd inside and outside the church, Mrs Foster said the William Frazer (right) she knew was “fearless, unvarnished and never gave up fighting for justice”.
“Earlier I attended a brief service to remember Ulstermen who died at the Somme,” the DUP leader said.
“I think it is very fitting that William’s funeral service should be held today.
“Like those young men in France, William dedicated his life to his country.
“I’d known William long before I was an elected politician when I was, believe it or not, his lawyer.
“And in spite of all the challenges that we often had, there are many memorable moments.
“William was fearless. He never gave up fighting for the innocent victims he cared so much about.
“Despite all the hatred and all the bile that was directed at him from republicans, he kept going.
“We have all lost someone who was witty, original, unvarnished, yes, but was very much the real thing.”
Conducting the service, Pastor Barrie Halliday encouraged everyone to remember who it was Mr Frazer had an argument with.
“He had no problem with Roman Catholicism,” he said. “But those who pointed guns at him and his family, that was a different story.
“Those are the people he had an argument with.
“He fought well and he fought hard for a good Ulster Protestant way of life.
“He caused the rest of us to stand up. He only said things that he was thinking. Things that I would never have said in public.
“Many of us would have laid down years ago and we should be proud to have known him.
“In the home I told the brothers and sisters, the close friends, to go out through the door with their heads held higher than they’ve ever been, put an Ulsterman on their shoulders and let Ulstermen carry him up the street past old familiar places.
“Where I stand, where the people here in this countryside stand, and thousands and thousands of loyal Ulstermen and women and young people stand today, is that Willie Frazer was not a troubled soul that needed excuses made for him. He was our man and he spoke what we thought.”
Independent councillor Paul Berry, a long-time friend of Mr Frazer, described him as a “true Ulsterman” and urged that someone “takes up the mantle” in his absence.
“Those who try to rewrite history must not be allowed to go unchallenged,” he said.
Following the service Mr Frazer was buried in the adjoining cemetery. He is survived by his wife Ann and son Phillip.