Eddie McGrady funeral: Former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie weeps as her mentor and friend is laid to rest
A member of Parliament who regarded SDLP veteran Eddie McGrady as her "political father" openly wept at his funeral.
Former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie worked for Mr McGrady (78) for most of her career and succeeded him as South Down MP in 2011 when he retired.
She described him as not only her mentor and colleague, but also her friend and inspiration.
The former accountant, who went on to topple Enoch Powell, died on Monday following an illness.
Yesterday morning his funeral cortege brought his remains from his home at nearby Saul to Downpatrick.
An estimated 1,600 mourners turned out to St Patrick's Church for Requiem Mass, including Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Nobel peace laureate and former SDLP leader John Hume.
Most of the SDLP's Westminster and Assembly teams attended, as well as party veterans such as Brid Rodgers, Ivan Cooper and Sean Farren.
The congregation also included DUP minister Arlene Foster, North Down MP Lady Hermon, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, Fine Gael Louth TD Fergus O'Dowd and clergy from the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian Church.
Mr McGrady's nephew, Father Feargal McGrady, welcomed them all and said his uncle "would have loved it". Fr McGrady said the politician was a "Christian, a democrat and a patriotic Irishman".
"He was in the eyes of fair-minded observers, critics and supporters alike a gentleman of honour," he said.
"He was in the main more interested in bettering the lot of people socially and materially than in any aspect of political belief.
"He was a unifier by nature; words carefully chosen, measured, conciliatory; a moderating influence. He espoused Christian and family values."
Fr McGrady said his uncle remained a strong supporter of Downe Hospital until the end of his life, refusing to be moved, and died there "fighting the good fight to the end".
Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor was unable to attend but sent a statement speaking of his sadness.
"I pay tribute to the immense contribution of Eddie McGrady to the political arena, firstly as a founding member of the SDLP espousing the highest ideals and virtues of constitutional democracy, and also in his tireless capacity to reach out across his South Down constituency to all those in need," he said.
Mr McGrady's wife Patricia died 10 years ago. He is survived by his three children Paula, Jerome and Conaill, his sister Maire, brother Malachy and wider family circle.
Eddie McGrady was born in 1935, the youngest of 11 children, in Market Street in Downpatrick. He was a member of Downpatrick Council in the 1960s and 1970s, and then on Down District Council until 1989. Mr McGrady served on devolved Assemblies in 1973, 1975 and 1982, and was a Member of the current Assembly from 1998 to 2003. He defeated former Unionist MP Enoch Powell in 1987 to win a seat at Westminster.