Catholic recalls friendship which started with deep suspicion and ended in Christian respect
A Catholic lay missionary from Dublin has told how he built an unlikely friendship with Ian Paisley at the height of his rabble-rousing preaching days.
Paddy Monaghan first met Mr Paisley in the early 1980s when he would approach the firebrand DUP leader at RUC funerals to apologise for atrocities that were carried out by members of his faith.
Over the next three decades, the pair became friends.
"Some people have pilloried him as an opportunist – I think that is totally wrong. He made a journey in his understanding," Mr Monaghan told the Belfast Telegraph.
"He came from a perspective where he regarded the Pope as the anti-Christ to acknowledging that there were born-again Christians in the Catholic Church – that was a big step."
Mr Monaghan is a pastoral council member in Johnstown-Killiney Catholic parish in south Co Dublin, and has been involved in reconciliation work in Northern Ireland.
He described the unusual circumstances in which he first encountered Mr Paisley.
"Behind the peace process and so-called Damascus Road conversion of sharing power with Sinn Fein and a former IRA leader, there had been many bridges of friendship built during the 1980s and 1990s between Mr Paisley and members of the Catholic community," he added.
"They included myself. I made a point of attending RUC funerals, and every time I went up to him – whether he liked it or not – and saying, 'Dr Paisley, I want to apologise to you for this tragedy that has come from within my community'.
"He was always most gracious. I don't think he knew how to handle it at first, but I was always invited into the hall afterwards for tea.
"Out of that built a friendship which crossed the divide.
"I met him once in Stormont and he told me he had just come back from negotiating with a government minister, along with a parish priest, to try and keep a Catholic school open in his constituency.
"That showed that he was fair.
"Of course he made some appalling statements over the years but he also made a journey, and behind the whole peace process lots of bridges of friendship and understanding were being built."
Mr Monaghan said the private but warm relations between Mr Paisley and members of the Catholic faith went unnoticed.
Meanwhile, another unlikely friend, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, also paid warm tribute to Mr Paisley after his death.
In a Sunday newspaper article, he wrote: "Ian Paisley was a big man with a big heart.
"He was a man of huge charisma and I have a lot of memories of him that I will cherish.
"When he passed away, I felt saddened at the passing of a good friend."
Mr Ahern said Paisley had a witty, warm personality. He recalled that at their first meeting in the Irish Embassy in London, Paisley ordered a hard boiled egg "to be sure I couldn't poison him".