Belfast Telegraph

Eileen Paisley: 'I can't wait to see the film about Ian... I'm sure they'll do an excellent job'

In day two of our exclusive interview with Baroness Paisley, she tells Suzanne Breen modern politicians lack her husband's charm

The widow of former DUP leader the Rev Ian Paisley says she doesn't know if she can face returning to the House of Lords without her husband by her side.

Eileen Paisley was made a life peer in 2006, but took leave of absence two years ago when her husband became ill. Baroness Paisley of St George's told the Belfast Telegraph she was still deciding whether or not she would take up her seat in the second chamber after his death.

"I'd like to go back. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and I miss the friends I made. But I'm still thinking about it. Ian was made a peer in 2010 and going back to the Lords without him would be a totally different experience.

"I would miss his company so much, it just wouldn't seem right being there without him by my side. And there's the hassle of travelling to London on my own to consider as well. So I haven't made up my mind yet."

Ian Paisley's oldest friend in Parliament wasn't a Right-wing Tory, as might have been expected, but the Left-wing MP Tony Benn,

Eileen said: "They were very close even though Ian said he was a bit of a republican. I remember watching them embrace once and there was such warmth between them. Ian knew Jeremy Corbyn too, and he liked him.

"He didn't share his politics and he didn't approve of Jeremy Corbyn meeting Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein people when the IRA campaign was still going on. But he always found him very courteous and polite. He said Jeremy was a gentleman."

Eileen said she was looking forward to watching The Journey, the film starring Timothy Spall as her husband and Colm Meaney as Martin McGuinness, which follows the developing friendship between the former enemies.

"I've heard it said that Timothy Spall looks like Ian, but I see no resemblance myself. I hear he is a very good actor though and I'm sure they'll do an excellent job," she said.

Eileen is still living in 'The Parsonage', the handsome Victorian home in east Belfast owned by the Free Presbyterian Church, where she and Ian spent most of their married life.

"It's mine until the end of my days," she said. "I won't be moving. I couldn't bear that. It would be far too traumatic. I have so many memories of Ian in that house."

She grows strawberries, rhubarb, apples and gooseberries in the garden, although most of the cooking and baking is left to her daughter Rhonda these days.

Eileen spends a lot of time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren, but keeps up to date with current affairs.

She said: "I have a laptop, an iPad and an iPhone. I've never been afraid to embrace new technology."

The former DUP leader's widow doesn't think any current Northern Ireland politicians are on the same level as her husband: "He had such charisma, that's what made him stand out. He wasn't just an X on the ballot paper. He secured a place in people's hearts.

"I don't think there are any other politicians around now who match him. And he was the last of the great orators."

But there is mischievousness and mirth in how Eileen and her children remember Ian.

"There is bronze bust of Ian at home. We put holly on it at Christmas, a straw hat in the summer, a sash on the Twelfth, and there was even a cigarette placed in his mouth on one occasion!" Eileen said.

The Bannside library housing the former DUP leader's 55,000-volume book collection, which the Paisleys have opened in east Belfast, reflects the rich tapestry of the family's life.

Sections are named after dogs that were household pets. "When the children were young, Ian would take them to the local dog shelter to choose an animal that had been abandoned or ill-treated, so we thought it would be nice to recognise that in the library," Eileen explained.

There is a section called 'Bishop'. "My husband loved 'Bishop'. He choose that name for the dog, because he said he didn't know many virtuous two-legged bishops so he thought a four-legged one might be better," Eileen said. "But Bishop had an insatiable desire for the bitches. There was a woman lived nearby who had prize poodles and Bishop would be at her door, trying to get at them, when they were in heat.

"The lady wrote a letter to me complaining about it. I passed it to Ian over breakfast and he was very blunt. 'Eileen, write back to that woman and tell her to put knickers on her bitches!' he said. The children were in stitches laughing at that."

Another section in the library is named after the dog 'Captain'. "Ian would say 'Down with the Pope' and Captain would bark," Eileen recalled. "Indeed, if Ian said 'Down with anything', Captain would bark."

Then there was there was the clearly Catholic sounding 'Bridie', named after Oliver Cromwell's daughter. "Oh, I smile when I remember taking her to the vets and everyone looking shocked when it was our turn and the vet called out 'Bridie Paisley'."

Ian Paisley's last dog was 'Denzil Luther'. "He was named 'Denzil' after the actor Denzil Washington and 'Luther' after Martin Luther.

"We actually were planning on calling him 'Denzil Martin' but we thought that people would think Ian was naming his dog after Martin McGuinness!" Eileen joked.

When Ian was ill, 'Denzil' stayed by his bedside right until the end. "He sensed what was happening and he just wouldn't leave the room," Eileen said.

"He'd sit up on the chair right beside Ian's bed, so he could be as near him as possible."

The library is overflowing with theological texts, but Eileen revealed that her husband read the odd romantic novel too. "Ian enjoyed a good love story, providing there was no bad language or smut in it."

The library is very much a family space. The Paisleys have chocolate sheep to give to children who visit. The former DUP leader collected brass animals and they line the top of the book shelves. "If Ian walked through the door now, he'd say we got it just right," Eileen said.

"He'd love this library. And that thought alone fills me with happiness."

Belfast Telegraph


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