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Hall silent for Paisley memorial


A painting in the order of service at the memorial service of Ian Paisley at Ulster Hall, Belfast

A painting in the order of service at the memorial service of Ian Paisley at Ulster Hall, Belfast

A painting in the order of service at the memorial service of Ian Paisley at Ulster Hall, Belfast

It was the scene of some of his biggest and most raucous political rallies where Ian Paisley would have whipped crowds of followers into a political frenzy with calls to "smash Sinn Fein" and chants of "no surrender".

But there were no flags, bunting or banners at his memorial service in the Ulster Hall. Indeed, t here were even appeals for no applause from the audience of 830 invited guests.

Instead, it was with silence and a sombre atmosphere that the "Big Man" of Ulster politics was remembered.

Family and friends joined former political colleagues and old arch-enemies stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they bowed their heads in recognition of the veteran politician, gospel preacher and dedicated family man whom they were told had a zeal for life.

Ian Paisley, also known as Lord Bannside, died last month at the age of 88.

His son, Ian Paisley Jnr, described it as a "singular honour" to lead the tributes.

The North Antrim MP said: "Dad could certainly speak out. I think there are four words you have never heard and that is, 'speak up Mr Paisley'.

"Dad was a man who made sure that he was heard and he used that voice to speak up on behalf of others."

Mr Paisley read a response from former prime minister John Major in which he said he was never left in any doubt about Dr Paisley's intentions during the early days of the peace process.

He added: "He spoke plainly and he was understood."

Earlier the audience heard from Dr Paisley's widow, Baroness Eileen Paisley, who recalled how they had met and fallen in love 64 years ago.

She said her marriage of 58 years had not been a dictatorship but a partnership bound by respect, patience and a good sense of humour. She described her husband as a devoted family man and dedicated public servant.

She said: "Everyone knows my husband was known, and was happily known, as the 'big man' which he certainly was.

"He had a big heart and a big spirit."

Mrs Paisley also recalled how family holidays to other parts of the United Kingdom had ended in history lessons.

At times, she cut a lonely figure as she sat on the hall stage dwarfed by her twin sons Ian, who now holds his father's seat in Westminster, and Kyle, a minister in his father's church. Her three daughters Rhonda, Sharon and Cherith were seated in the main body of the hall.

She added: "Ian was one of the happiest men on earth. He had an incredible zest for life, whether that was in his pulpit or in the three parliaments in which he served, and he rejoiced in the help he could give through these offices to many afflicted and persecuted people across the world, securing freedom for quite a number."

A huge portrait by Co Down artist Colin Davidson - the last ever painted of him in June 2013 - was placed at the front of the stage which was adorned with red, yellow and white flowers.

Music was provided by the Seven Towers Male Voice Choir from Dr Paisley's home town of Ballymena, Co Antrim, and a piper from the 2nd battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment broke the minute's silence by playing the hymn Amazing Grace.

Among the invited guests were prominent politicians from Northern Ireland, the Republic and Scotland as well as the Northern Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, senior clergymen, police officers and high-profile business leaders.

Delivering the sermon, Kyle Paisley, whose voice was almost as powerful as his father's, said his father had worked hard to build up the church and Democratic Unionist Party.

He said both organisations had reached their pinnacle at the point Ian Paisley left them and added: "Ian Paisley laboured and now other men have entered into his labours."

The Paisley family said that attendance at the event was by invitation only "due to the overwhelming numbers of those wishing to attend".