The funeral of one of the longest serving unionist leaders in living memory took place yesterday in complete privacy in the rural south Antrim countryside where he was born, raised and on Monday died.
Jim Molyneaux, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party from 1979 to 1995, was mourned by a small group of family members as his funeral service was held in the 300-year-old church which he attended all his life and in which he was a chorister.
It is understood that the Bishop of Connor, Alan Abernethy, was present for the service in St Catherine’s Parish Church, which sits within the grounds of RAF Aldergrove.
Several close political associates who might have been expected to have been at the funeral told the News Letter that they had not been present for the service, which at Lord Molyneaux’s request was described in a News Letter death notice as “strictly private”.
It is understood that the peer was cremated after yesterday’s service.
Lord Molyneaux is the second unionist leader in a matter of months to be buried in utter privacy.
In September, Ian Paisley was buried in the presence of no one but his family and close clerical friend the Rev David McIlveen.
It is believed that a public memorial service — similar to that which took place for Dr Paisley — is likely to be held for Lord Molyneaux.
The Rev Willian Orr, who has been in the parish for seven years, described the former UUP leader as “a perfect gent”.
“He loved St Catherine’s Church and he loved the area where he was born and reared.
“Any time I went to see him and speak to him he was extremely courteous. He always sought the welfare of the church he loved.”
He said that Lord Molyneaux’s faith was “the most important” aspect of his life.
“Not many people know, but no matter where he was in the Province he always wanted to return to St Catherine’s for Sunday worship, hence why he sang in the choir for 80 years.”
Lord Molyneaux had been in failing health for several years, and had not been at the House of Lords for some time.
He died in Antrim Area Hospital.
Ulster Unionist chairman Lord Empey, who knew Lord Molyneaux for many decades, said: “The privacy issue would be typical Jim.
“He was a no frills politician.
“He didn’t like pomp and circumstance and ceremony and so it would be entirely consistent with his lifestyle and values. That was absolutely no surprise to me.”
See Obituary, page 13