Friends and enemies together for Ian Paisley

The order of service bearing a portrait of Northern Ireland's fiery former First Minister. Picture: AFP

The order of service bearing a portrait of Northern Ireland's fiery former First Minister. Picture: AFP

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HUNDREDS of people have attended a memorial service for Northern Ireland’s former first minister Ian Paisley.

Relatives and friends stood alongside one-time enemies of the firebrand preacher turned politician during the invitation-only event in Belfast’s Ulster Hall yesterday.

Lord Bannside, who was 88, died on September 12.

His wife Baroness Eileen Paisley told the audience how her husband, affectionately known as the “Big Man”, had loved life.

She said: “He had an incredible zest for life and was happy in whatever he did whether in the pulpit or the three parliaments in which he served.”

The memorial was organised to provide an opportunity for a public farewell to one of the best-known characters in Northern Ireland politics following a private funeral last month.

Among the 830 guests were Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness and the leaders of the main parties at Stormont, as well as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers and the Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable George Hamilton.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was also in attendance as was Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond.

For the duration of the service Baroness Paisley sat flanked by her twin sons Ian, who holds his father’s seat at Westminster, and Kyle, a minister in his father’s church.

She struggled to keep her composure as she recalled her husband’s final moments.

She added: “His home was his castle and he was at his happiest and most relaxed there. It is the place he would have chosen from which to enter his heavenly home and God granted his request.

Baroness Paisley said her marriage of 58 years had not been “a dictatorship” but a “partnership filled with laughter and love”.

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