PICTURES: Van Morrison sings Ian Adamson's favourite song at historian's funeral

Van Morrison bade farewell to his old friend with a song as the funeral of "inspirational" Ulster historian and politician Dr Ian Adamson was held.

The East Belfast-born singer/songwriter sang the unionist intellectual’s favourite - Into The Mystic - in front of a hushed congregation at Conlig Presbyterian Church in Co Down.

Funeral of Ian Adamson

Funeral of Ian Adamson

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins was present and Dr Adamson’s coffin was carried by ex-Formula One racing star Eddie Irvine after he bankrolled his first race.

The politician, medical doctor and historian, who died aged 74, served as Ulster Unionist Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1996/7 and was a Stormont Assembly member representing East Belfast from 1998 to 2003.

He was the author of a series of books exploring the complex origins of Ulster identity and was also a kind friend who loved crowds and enjoyed telling anecdotes, mourners heard.

Mr Irvine’s sister, Sonia, said: “Ian will be deeply missed by our family, who flew from different parts of the world to show our love and respect for a truly inspirational man.”

Close friend Wesley Hutchinson said he supported exploration of the shared history of St Columbanus, an Irish Catholic monk who studied a few miles from Dr Adamson’s Conlig birthplace and spread Christianity throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.

He added: “He was able to see a link between an Irish monk and young unemployed loyalists on the Shankill in the 1980s.

“He was able to use the one to instruct the other, to offer an alternative model to sectarianism and violence that blighted everyday life for so many.”

He said Dr Adamson effected a “sea change” in loyalist opinion.

The historian helped establish the Somme Heritage Centre, which commemorates the sacrifices paid in the First World War trenches by so many from the north of Ireland, and aided restoration of the memorial Ulster Tower in the French valley where they died.

He was known for his passion for culture and languages, founding the Ulster-Scots Language Society in 1992 and speaking several other languages, including Irish.

Mr Hutchinson described him as a “cultural activist” who challenged stereotypes.

He wrote a series of books - The Cruthin from 1974 being the best known - as part of a body of literature exploring the pre-history of Ulster, what Mr Hutchinson termed an “alternative narrative” of its origins and forming a common identity with the Gaelic past.

He said: “He managed to turn material that might otherwise have seemed obscure into something relevant to the everyday lives of people.”

Dr Adamson advised DUP founder and former Stormont first minister Ian Paisley on historical and cultural matters during his latter years.

Several unionist and Sinn Fein politicians were present at the funeral thanksgiving service on Monday.

Mr Hutchinson added: “Ian’s work is based on the premise that the past is not a trap, it should be used to open up opportunities for dialogue in and on the future.”

The coffin was carried from the church and taken for cremation.