The symbols of loyalism still hanging just yards from Seamus Mallon’s front door in the mainly unionist village of Markethill sent out their own unmistakable signal on Monday.
But quietly, behind the scenes, a very different message was emerging with the revelation that Protestant neighbours had helped to organise his funeral.
Mourners bringing the former Deputy First Minister’s coffin from his house to his Requiem Mass just over a mile away passed plaques supporting a loyalist flute band and remembering the disbanded Ulster Defence Regiment from the nearby village of Glenanne, a place name synonymous with the darkest days of the Troubles.
However, an SDLP source said that the 83-year-old nationalist politician, who never thought of moving from Markethill where he was born and raised, would have been pleased, but not surprised, that his Protestant friends had played a significant role in the preparations for the funeral at which a Presbyterian minister said a prayer at Mr Mallon’s express invitation.
“At the house this morning there were as many Protestant people paying their respects to Seamus as Catholics,” they added.
What would also have brought satisfaction to Mr Mallon, who not so long ago spoke of his anger and sadness at the stalemate of the suspended Stormont Assembly, was the sight of the First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, not just sitting together in church but arriving together, in the company of Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy.
Some onlookers, including PSNI officers, appeared taken aback by the spectacle of the DUP and Sinn Fein leaders walking to the Mass side by side down the Derryraine Road where the tattered remnants of a Union flag on a lamp-post flapped limply in the wind.
It was on the Derryraine Road that Mr Mallon’s funeral took on a more formal nature. Friends and neighbours who had followed the cortège from Mr Mallon’s home watched as senior SDLP figures carried their ex-deputy leader’s coffin to the St James of Jerusalem church at Mullaghbrack, a townland he always said he was proud to call his home.
John Hume, the former SDLP leader, was represented by his wife, Pat.
It was in the church that the award-winning Gaelic footballer and amateur drama director was baptised, just a short distance from the school where he was to become the headmaster, following in the footsteps of his father Frank who once told him as a boy that the only weapons that should be used in Ireland were words, adding that guns didn’t solve problems, they only made them.
The tiny church was only big enough to accommodate family, close friends and VIPs, including Mrs Foster, Mrs O’Neill, Secretary of State Julian Smith, the Taioseach Leo Varadkar and the Tanaiste Simon Coveney, along with the leaders of the Alliance Party Naomi Long and the Ulster Unionist Party Steve Aiken, plus representatives of the Queen and the Irish President Michael D Higgins.
Former First Minister Lord Trimble was also there and he was among the mourners who greeted Mr Mallon’s family, including his daughter Orla, before the service.
Hundreds of other people who watched a streaming of the service into a church hall and a specially erected marquee heard the Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin call Mr Mallon, who was one of the main architects of the Good Friday Agreement, a peacemaker, a statesman, a leader and a bridge-builder who had made ‘a real difference to the world.’
He added: “He was a shining example of someone who gives their life to a vocation of service.”
Archbishop Martin said Mr Mallon was unequivocally anti-violence and saw the bloodshed of the past as a waste of life, a waste of spirit.
He added: “He empathised from his heart with all those who were suffering and his consistent condemnation of violence from whatever source often left him open to insult and unfair criticism.
“But his principles, rooted in a strong faith and in an unstinting commitment to a culture of life, remained steadfast in face of such opposition.
“Having lived through the worst of the Troubles, he personally played a central role in the landmark events of our peace process.”
The Archbishop said he had no doubt that Mr Mallon had been inspired by Pope John Paul II’s plea at Drogheda in September 1979 to politicians to show that peace ‘achieves the work of justice and violence does not’
Of Mr Mallon, he said: “To his dying day he was consistent in his dedication to a culture of life and peace, and he remained a man of hope for a brighter and more peaceful tomorrow — a shared and respectful future where everyone can experience a sense of belonging.
“A fitting tribute to the legacy of Seamus Mallon would be a renewed effort by all our political leaders and by all of us to build that “shared home place” which was Seamus’ vision and lifelong project.”
A former secretary general to the President of Ireland, Tim O’Connor, was applauded after he delivered an emotional tribute to his friend whom he described as a ‘great Chieftain of Irish political life’ and as a key leader in a seminal time Irish history.
He said he was ‘an almost Biblical voice for decency, tolerance and relentless pursuit of peace and reconciliation’ during the Troubles.
Mr O’Connor also reminded the congregation that Mr Mallon had made a conscious decision to go to every funeral in his constituency related to the conflict.
Mr Mallon’s priest Fr Michael Woods said that the parish was proud of the late politician and his ‘many achievements and the enormous contribution he made to peace and reconciliation on our island.’
He added: “For that reason, we are particularly pleased that several representatives of other Christian denominations have joined us to say their farewells, and pay their tributes to a man who placed huge store by the holding out of the hand of friendship.”
Rev Tony Davidson said a prayer of thanks for Mr Mallon who, he added, had ‘shared his community of Markethill with neighbourliness and friendliness and his land with generosity.”
He also said Mr Mallon had shared his politics with a ‘relational humanity’ and shared negotiations with ‘integrity and understanding’ as well as sharing his desire for justice with a desire for peace.
He also said Mr Mallon had shared his suffering with courage and shared his legacy with hope.
During the Mass, gifts representing Mr Mallon’s varied life and career were brought forward, including a photo of him with Pope John Paul II and a copy of his maiden speech in the House of Commons as well as set of golf balls and a fishing reel.
Mr Mallon was later buried in the family plot in the adjoining churchyard. His wife Gertrude died in 2016.
As Arlene Foster left the church after the funeral, some mourners thanked her for coming to Mullaghbrack and wished her well with what she and Mrs O’Neill were trying to do in the newly-restored Stormont Executive.