Editor's Viewpoint: Dr Paisley and his mysterious ways
The Reverend Dr Ian Paisley has made many headlines in his long public life, and his final service last night in the Martyrs Memorial Church was historic in its own way.
For over 60 years he has been a significant political figure in Northern Ireland, but also a high profile religious leader who helped to establish the Free Presbyterian Church in 1951, after a split with the main Presbyterian Church.
He was a gifted orator, steeped in conservative evangelical theology, and he attracted a large and loyal following throughout this province and further afield. In his early days he was a political and religious firebrand. He would have no truck with power-sharing, and he fulminated constantly against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. While he was regarded as helpful to his Catholic constituents, he was a stern and often offensive critic of successive Popes and other Catholic figures. He maintained this critical momentum without fail, and he even led a protest against the current Pope's recent visit to the United Kingdom.
Given his "No Surrender" attitude, which was the bedrock of his philosophy for most of his ministry, he created widespread and major surprise when he decided to enter a powersharing agreement with his old political enemies in Sinn Fein. Not only that, he forged a constructive and amiable relationship with Martin McGuinness and they were quickly dubbed the 'Chuckle Brothers'. This workmanlike relationship has been maintained between his successor Peter Robinson and Mr McGuinness.
No-one, including Dr Paisley himself, has ever fully explained the reasons behind his change of direction. When he resigned as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church he attempted to answer that question to the assembled media by suggesting "The Lord moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform."
His forthcoming memoirs about his remarkable career might provide a few more answers.
Whatever the reason, his change of heart has radically changed politics in Northern Ireland for the better. The pity is that Dr Paisley did not exhibit that change of heart many years earlier.