A police escort took Willie Frazer on one last tour of south Armagh today, wearing his Orange sash and wrapped in a Union Flag, before he was laid to rest.
The leaders of the three main unionist parties, Arlene Foster (DUP), Robin Swann (UUP) and Jim Allister (TUV), sat together at the front of Five Mile Hill Pentecostal Church near Mountnorris for the funeral of the terror victims campaigner.
Some 500 people attended, about 300 outside, many of them wearing poppies. Inside were Willie’s widow Anne, son Philip and other relatives.
The service switched between silence, applause and laughter as Pastor Barrie Halliday and others told of how profund Willie’s Christian conversion had been 21 years ago. The result, they said, was that he did not fear to spend the past two decades venturing into south Armagh to confront senior republicans with nothing more than a legal writ, or to lead police to fuel laundering plants or booby-trap bombs.
His constant response to death threats, the pastor said, was: “I know where I am going - but I also know where the people who sent this message are going”.
The pastor added: “Willie Frazer was no Catholic hater. Willie Frazer only hated the Catholics who pointed guns at him or his family”.
Willie Frazer was no Catholic hater. Willie Frazer only hated the Catholics who pointed guns at him or his family.Pastor Barrie Halliday
The many texts and messages of sympathy from the Catholic community proved his point, he added.
DUP leader and former First Minister Arlene Foster said it was “an honour and a privilege” to pay tribute to the man whom she first met when she became his lawyer.
Later, she was with the DUP at political talks at Leeds Castle in 2004 when he was arrested for peacefully protesting for victims outside.
Shortly afterwards she got a phone call from the Maidenhead police saying they had her client in custody, so she left the talks to secure Willie’s release, without charge.
She prompted laughter when she related how throughout her political career, Willie would ring her up to encourage her, usually starting with the greeting “Well girl...” even when she was First Minister.
Willie’s brother, Joe, said a Catholic historian had emailed him a tribute to Willie’s integrity.
Born in 1960, his brother had a “truly cross community childhood” in south Armagh before the murder of his father and five other relatives pressed them into moving out. Since that, he said, Willie made world-wide contacts and with terror victims in Israel and the US and helped spearhead the legal action for damages for victims of Gaddafi-IRA terrorism.
Joe also thanked police for escorting Willie’s coffin - wrapped in a union flag - on one last tour of south Armagh, including the Kingsmills Massacre site, while wearing his Orange Sash.
Independent unionist councillor Paul Berry sang two solos, and paid tribute to his close friend.
“He was fearless,” he said. “Others tried to apologise for him, but for those who respected our brother Willie we had no apologies to make.”
Pastor Halliday said there had been barely one day in the past twenty years he had not spoken to his best friend.
Willie had been “a wild young man” in his youth who often got drunk, but his Christian conversion 21 years ago transformed him, he said.
He was so fearless, he said, that he went alone to the venue for the homecoming party for John Downey in Co Donegal. Downey had been charged and acquitted of the IRA Hyde Park bombings, but when Willie turned up to protest with a big poster, the party event was cancelled, the pastor said.
Willie’s “very presence” struck fear into republicans, he said. The pastor told a story of how Willie had gone alone to serve a writ on a senior republican in south Armagh, but when he got there the republican had fled, leaving behind only his cup of tea on the window sill.
He challenged politicians present that the responsibility for Willie’s legacy lay with them; that “the fight for justice and truth must go forward” and that republicans “cannot be allowed to rewrite history”.
At the graveside, the Union Flag and his Territorial Army beret were folded and given to his wife Anne. She then took her poppy and dropped it into her husband’s grave, prompting mourners to quietly file past and do the same as a mark of respect.