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Lord Bannside celebrates 87th birthday

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LORD Bannside celebrated his 87th birthday quietly with family and friends on Saturday.

He spent the day surrounded by familiar faces who called to visit and wish him well at the Paisley home in Belfast.

However, his official birthday lunch was postponed until yesterday as both he and Baroness Paisley were guests at Saturday’s annual dinner of the Bannside branch of the Democratic Unionist Party – an event he said he “would not have missed, even for a slice of the birthday cake the News Letter kindly delivered” to him.

In 1970, the Rev Ian Paisley, now known as Lord Bannside, was elected to the Northern Ireland parliament as a Protestant Unionist. The now defunct constituency comprised rural areas of Ballymena, Ballymoney and Antrim.

By 2012, he had been the pastor at Martyrs Memorial in Belfast for almost 50 years when he officially retired. For many years he also led the Free Presbyterian Church he founded in 1951.

In his busy working life, the former DUP leader was also North Antrim MP for 40 years and served as Northern Ireland’s First Minister for two years.

Lord Bannside’s retirement has proved eventful despite the reduced workload.

Only a few weeks after retiring, he spent eight days in the intensive care unit of the Ulster Hospital due to a heart problem.

He has been a lifelong collector of books – amassing thousands along the way – which will eventually be available for the public to read at a specially-adapted premises on the Upper Newtownards Road in Belfast.

In an interview last year, Lord Bannside said he was “really looking forward” to its opening.

“I’m putting all my books into it and hundreds more that people have sent in,” he said.

“It’s not a taking library, but people will be able to come in, sit down and get a book and if they want a part copied, then they can do that.”

At the time, Baroness Paisley said she was helping her husband piece together his memoirs.

Commenting on his birthday at the weekend, Lord Bannside said the first thing he did was to “thank God for the gift of long life, and then indulge in a bowl of porridge!”

In recent weeks he has continued work on his memoirs, as well as the foundation work of his personal library which he hopes will be opened to the public before the end of this year.

He said that he also continues to enjoy working on his weekly column for the News Letter, spending more time with his wife and family in retirement, and still makes time “to scour second-hand bookstores for treasure”.

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