Baroness Paisley has spoken of the exceptionally private funeral for her husband last year, and told of the “trauma” of losing her life’s partner, having known him for more than six decades.
Speaking in Bannside Library on the Newtownards Road, where the public can now come to view his 55,000-volume private book collection, Baroness Paisley told the News Letter that she has only happy memories of her life with the former First Minister.
Recalling their decades-long friendship and love, she said: “I haven’t one bad memory of all those years.”
Even now, more than a year after his death, Baroness Paisley said that when she hears of the death of someone he knew she thinks “Ian would be sorry to hear that” before realising again that he is himself dead.
But she said that “the Grace of God is a wonderful thing” and she had been comforted by the many prayers for her and her family.
She recalled how her husband had requested a poem to be read at his funeral – but she had almost forgotten all about it.
She said: “He lifted a book one day a number of years ago and it was one of Tennyson’s poetry books. He said ‘I’ve just read this beautiful poem – listen to it’ . It was ‘Crossing the Bar’.
“I said ‘It’s lovely, Ian, but it’s really quite sad, isn’t it?’. He said ‘It is, but it’s very hopeful, too’. He said to me ‘you know, I would like that poem either read or sung at my funeral’.
“It went out of my head completely until the early morning of his funeral. I wakened and it just hit me out of the blue.
“I knew in my heart that Ian would have wanted me to read it and I didn’t know whether I would be emotionally strong enough to do it. I thought about it and read it over a couple of times ... when it came to the part, we had a nicely laid-out programme for the event at home and I just thought ‘I have to do this myself’ and I did do it.”
She said that Dr Paisley’s coffin had also been adorned simply with a small framed Biblical text of three words, ‘He faileth not’, which was given to them many decades ago by her former pastor.
Baroness Paisley said it was “much easier” for the family to hold the intensely private funeral to which only his immediate family were invited, rather than the large funeral which many had expected for such a public figure.
She said it was “more personal, and just as he would have liked it because he loved home, he loved his family around him and the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren who loved to come and see him. They would run to his chair, give him a hug and a kiss and before they left they always came back and held their heads down for him to pat their heads and say ‘God bless you son’.”
In the year since Dr Paisley’s death, his family have been working on preparing the library for its opening.
Baroness Paisley also paid particular tribute to her daughter Rhonda, a talented artist and art teacher who had given that up to work with her father during his last period in the European Parliament from 1999 “and she’s been with us ever since”.
All of the family have worked on the library, but it was Rhonda who has spent the most time implementing her father’s vision for the library.
Prior to his death last year, Dr Paisley visited the premises where his library now is: “He wanted to be here to meet people, but it didn’t work out that way ... [however] he was delighted by what he saw.”
She said that the collection now open to the public shows that although her husband was dogmatic about his beliefs he did not have a closed mind.
“If you look in a library you find out the interests of the owner of the books and how wide his interests were – some people are very tight, for want of a better word, and would only read books from a certain outlook, but Ian didn’t. He read books that he knew he wouldn’t agree with, but he still read them for information.
“I’d a Roman Catholic man in here this morning and he said ‘I’m amazed’. I said ‘Well, don’t be, because Ian was a strong Protestant as everybody knows but he had great time for the Roman Catholic people and he worked hard for them.”
Baroness Paisley agreed that many people will be surprised at the number of books about the Roman Catholic Church and about the finer points of Catholic doctrine and history.
“He went into the history of every church and its foundations and what made it what it was so it was nothing new to him – in fact, our girls would often go in and collect newspapers and once a month the Catholic Herald and another Catholic paper came out and they had to be specially ordered in [to the local east Belfast newsagent] for us. We used to laugh about that. He always said ‘it’s good to know what other people are doing and how they’re thinking’.”
She said that Dr Paisley had taught himself to read in the back of his police car, despite initially being car sick: “He was determined to do it, because he never wasted time.”
She hopes that the library will be well used, and added: “There are a lot of lonely people about, too. They find time long and it’s just nice to take a seat and read a book.”
The Tennyson poem read at Ian Paisley’s funeral:
Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no
moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no
sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.