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Ian Paisley's funeral: A surprising contrast to the funeral of his hero Edward Carson

By Liam Clarke

It was not the funeral that we would have predicted for Ian Paisley - a quiet family affair and interment in a country churchyard, with no crowded pavements and public figures to mark this ending of this tumultuous life.

Perhaps it is what the Big Man would have wanted in any circumstances; he always said that his faith and his family were the most important thing in his life. Yet, in the particular circumstances in which he actually passed, it had a poignant, bittersweet edge to it.

It was in marked contrast to the funeral of his hero Sir Edward Carson, a more natural establishment figure than Lord Bannside. Carson sailed into Belfast Lough in a Union flag-draped coffin aboard the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Broke. From there his remains were taken on a gun carriage to St Anne's Cathedral for a State funeral. A commentator on the newsreels commented that he had died "completely victorious".

You could have easily said the same thing about Ian Paisley, the man who had successfully battled his way to political leadership with determination over more than four decades.

Carson did not succeed in keeping all of Ireland under the crown, but he did keep a portion. Paisley similarly did not fulfil all his political agenda, but he got the best deal imaginable. The Union is secure. The Republic has dropped its constitutional claim to Northern Ireland, the IRA is disarmed and Sinn Fein supports the police and courts, perhaps more strongly than the DUP. Irish unity is only now achievable by consent and the DUP is the largest party in the land.

It is an astounding achievement in public affairs, and for his whole life Paisley had revelled in public events and big rallies. Yet at his funeral he seemed a curiously isolated figure with his lone piper and small circle of loved ones in his cortege. The only sign of State recognition were the police outriders accompanying his coffin.

There were remarkable moments surrounding his death, moments which would have exceeded his wildest expectations and would have been derisively dismissed if they had been predicted 20 years ago.

Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, choked back tears as he spoke of Dr Paisley's passing, describing him as a friend. A raucous Paisley-led demonstration in 1964 which resulted in an Irish tricolour being removed from a west Belfast Sinn Fein office made Gerry Adams an active republican. Yet he signed a book of condolence for Ian Paisley, including an inscription in Irish and three kisses.

However, neither Mr McGuinness nor Mr Adams were invited to the funeral. Nor were the DUP colleagues who had followed Dr Paisley for a political lifetime, nor the Free Presbyterian hierarchy who had elected him as moderator for 57 years running.

Not to put too fine a point on it, he had fallen out with too many of his associates too recently to include them in the guest list without creating an uneasy atmosphere as they lined up to shake the hand of his widow and children.

The damage was done in an interview with the BBC earlier this year in which Dr Paisley and his wife Eileen gave the rough end of their tongues to many of their old friends.

The truth is probably that, like many people, Ian Paisley just couldn't settle to retirement, no matter how comfortable it was, with his seat in the Lords, his several pensions and his two homes paid for by the church.

All the signs were that when he was urged to retire in 2008, and presented with a survey showing that 83% of DUP MLAs felt he should go soon, he accepted the situation.

Sitting at home, though, he missed the buzz and the gaggle of obliging yes men with which all political leaders are surrounded. He brooded, he got things out of proportion and he lashed out.

It made for a sad epitaph for a man who confounded his critics by achieving more in life than any of them could ever have dreamed of.

At the end, when everyone was ready to praise and congratulate him, he was his own worst enemy. Most of the others had become his friends, if only he could have recognised it.

Belfast Telegraph


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