Ian Paisley: Tributes flood in from across the world as funeral takes place for former DUP leader
First Minister Peter Robinson has paid tribute to the late Ian Paisley as the funeral takes place for the former DUP leader.
Political parties from all sides offered heartfelt thoughts of the churchman and politician's legacy at a special sitting of the Assembly as the family held a private funeral in Belfast.
Mr Robinson said the founder of the DUP was head and shoulders above all others.
"Ian Paisley was a remarkable man whose long career in public life has left an indelible mark on all of us who knew him," the First Minister said.
"The 'Big Man' as he was known, provided firm and decisive leadership when unionism lacked it most and needed it most."
Mr Robinson said the task of remembering and paying lasting tributes to Mr Paisley was daunting and that no words could properly do it justice.
The Paisley family held a private service at their home on Cyprus Avenue in Belfast this morning before burial in Ballygowan, Co Down.
A lone piper led a handful of close family mourners at the graveyard at Ballygowan Free Presbyterian Church after a funeral service at Dr Paisley's home in east Belfast.
His successor as North Antrim MP, Ian Jnr, helped carry his coffin from the hearse a few metres into a white tent which covered the newly-dug grave.
It lies on the brow of a hill overlooking a country road in the hills south of Belfast, a short distance from his home city - a city which once reverberated to his oratory and where thousands flocked to hear his message.
Today there was only the respectful and hushed atmosphere of a family grieving, only the sound of the pipes carrying across the air.
A public memorial service will be held later in the year, the family have said.
Books of condolences were opened today in the City Hall in Belfast and also at Stormont.
Mr Paisley died last Friday at the age of 88.
The former first minister and former unionist leader was a firebrand fundamentalist Protestant preacher and polarising figure whose vehement opposition to dealing with the IRA and extreme anti-Catholic rhetoric was legendary.
The bellicose symbol of unionist defiance was famous for bellowing "never, never, never" during a mass protest against Irish government involvement in Northern Ireland affairs in the 1980s.
He helped wreck earlier attempts at political accord, became the ultimate protest figure and promised to smash Sinn Fein.
But, in a potent symbol of the ground covered by political negotiations which largely ended violence, he entered government with republicans in 2007 as Stormont's first minister after republicans lent their support to the police.
Eventually his partnership with the former IRA commander and current Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the head of government led to them being dubbed the Chuckle Brothers.
Mr McGuinness said his professional relationship and friendship with Mr Paisley - the source of much irritation in some sections of unionism and republicanism - should provide food for thought with the Stormont Executive dogged by political stalemate.
The Sinn Fein chief said he would leave history to determine Mr Paisley's legacy.
"I can only talk about my own experience with him," Mr McGuinness said.
"From the word go for some reason we hit it off.
"We grew to like each other and that, incredible for people undoubtedly who for many decades intensely disliked each other. But we genuinely grew to like each other and in doing so we confounded the world. He certainly made a huge effort."
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams signed the book of condolence at the City Hall.
"Many families who suffered the worst excesses of sectarianism may take issue with this, but Ian Paisley is due recognition for reaching agreement with Irish republicans on a peaceful future for all of our people and for the way he fulfilled his role as first minister, alongside Martin McGuinness," Mr Adams said.
"Together they proved that politics can work and that unionists and republicans working together could make political progress and overcome significant political difficulties."
Mr Adams said Mr Paisley's legacy is a huge challenge for all politicians in Northern Ireland and the current unionist leadership.
Below is a selection of messages sent to the Belfast Telegraph
Eisso Post, Groningen, Netherlands:
"You can't help but really admire someone who was so convinced, more or less dogmatic, that he was right, and nevertheless decided to make compromises because that was necessary for peace. Nobody expected Ian Paisley to do that, but he did."
Linda Gatensby Sparas, Toronto, Canada:
"I thank God for faithful men like Rev Paisley and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. He is safe in the arms of the Saviour."
Julie Wilson, Northern Ireland:
"The world has lost an incredible man, Northern Ireland has lost a change maker and his family has lost a loved one. From a staunch unionist to a maker of peace."
Billy Gillespie, Memphis, Tennessee:
"I grew up in Belfast during The Troubles era and I would often see him on TV being interviewed with his trademark no nonsense quips and my father would say, 'He's the only man for the Protestants'. That phrase never really meant anything to me until years later as he would prove his tenacity by relentlessly pursing peace in Northern Ireland."
Darrell and Shirley Monteith, Northern Ireland:
"This is a sad day for us as we remember the day over 25 years ago when we had the privilege of having our wedding ceremony conducted by Dr Paisley. A loving and gracious man who was a true friend and the greatest preacher that we have ever known in our lifetime. Dr Paisley's life of service in both the spiritual and political fields of Northern Ireland is without equal and we benefit today from his legacy of wisdom and courage."
Paul Jackson, England:
"Having listened to many of his sermons and read articles by himself and others, I came to see that for all the bluff and bluster, here was a man who truly loved the Lord Jesus Christ, was personally warm on a pastoral level and was funny and charming."
"Sorry to hear about the sad loss of Dr Ian Paisley - deepest thoughts and prayers to Eileen and family. He is with his saviour now."
Tributes to Ian Paisley can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org