Leading journalist Liam Clarke cremated amidst Buddhist chanting

Adam and Daniel Clarke, the sons of journalist Liam Clarke, carry his coffin
Adam and Daniel Clarke, the sons of journalist Liam Clarke, carry his coffin
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One of Northern Ireland’s most respected journalists has been mourned in a simple ceremony which involved Buddhist chanting.

Liam Clarke, who died suddenly the day after Boxing Day, was cremated after a short and unusual funeral ceremony.

First Minister Peter Robinson expresses his sympathy to Liam Clarke's widow, Kathryn Johnston

First Minister Peter Robinson expresses his sympathy to Liam Clarke's widow, Kathryn Johnston

The father-of-three’s family and friends were joined by many senior politicians and journalists at Roselawn Crematorium in the Castlereagh Hills above Belfast.

Mr Clarke spent more than two decades at The Sunday Times, many of them as its Northern Ireland editor, and wrote a column for the News Letter for almost three years between 2008 and 2011 before joining the Belfast Telegraph as political editor in 2011, a post which he held until his death.

Among the politicians present at Tuesday’s funeral were First Minister Peter Robinson, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and DUP MP Sammy Wilson, each of whom had paid warm tribute to Mr Clarke at the time of his death.

Labour’s shadow Secretary of State, Vernon Coaker, was also present in the large crowd of mourners, as was the North Down MP Lady Hermon.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and press officer John Moore arriving at Liam Clarke's funeral

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and press officer John Moore arriving at Liam Clarke's funeral

Among the many media colleagues and rivals were the BBC’s Mark Devenport, Noel Thompson and William Crawley, UTV’s Ken Reid and the editor of the Belfast Telegraph, Gail Walker.

The lawyer Paul Tweed, who worked with Mr Clarke and his wife on legal aspects of their seminal 2001 book ‘Martin McGuinness – From Guns To Government’, was also present at the service.

Ingen K Breen of the San Francisco Zen Centre told mourners that Mr Clarke had been an “atheist Buddhist” who saw no contradiction between his Zen Buddhism and his belief that there is no God.

There was no communal singing at the service, but Mr Clarke’s friend and fellow journalistic veteran Hugh Jordan played and sang at the beginning and the end of the service.

Liam Clarke's coffin arriving at Roselawn Crematorium

Liam Clarke's coffin arriving at Roselawn Crematorium

Mr Clarke’s cousin recalled his sense of adventure, even as a child, when the future journalist would encourage him to ride his bicycle fast without touching the handlebars.

There was also a eulogy from Church of Ireland cleric Earl Storey who told the congregation that as well as being an outstanding journalist Mr Clarke was a loving father and husband.

And there was a personal tribute from one of Mr Clarke’s Buddhist friends, Garret O’Fachtna, who told the service: “Liam was a true zen monk and a teacher of the way.

“Liam was someone I was always glad to see coming. He was a towering figure in Irish journalism but more than that, for me he was simply a wonderfully warm, gentle and profoundly decent brother and friend in the dharma of all things.”

Liam Clarke died the day after Boxing Day after a distinguished journalistic career

Liam Clarke died the day after Boxing Day after a distinguished journalistic career

At the end of the service, around a dozen Buddhists, among them Mr Clarke’s wife Kathryn, came forward and chanted for several minutes as his coffin was lowered from view to enter the crematorium.

The funeral followed a smaller Zen Buddhist service at Mr Clarke’s Ballymena home on Monday.