Ian Paisley dies aged 88. Wife: 'Our earthly lives are forever changed'

AP Photo/Peter Morrison

Ian Paisley, former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, has died at the age of 88.

Paisley became Northern Ireland's first minister and 30 years after he supported a strike to bring one down, led a power-sharing executive at Stormont.

His wife Baroness Paisley, with whom he had five children, said: "Although ours is the grand hope of reunion, naturally as a family we are heartbroken. We loved him and he adored us, and our earthly lives are forever changed."

Paisley was a big man and controversial figure notorious for plain speaking, in the pulpit and out of it, and uncompromising views. Among his most-used words were "no", "never" and "not an inch".

George Galloway, leader of the Respect Party, was among the first to react.

He said: "Sorry to hear of the death of Rev Ian Paisley. May God have mercy upon him and forgive his errors. As a private man he was good and kind."

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness, who was his deputy first minister – the unlikely pair became known as the "chuckle brothers" – said: "Over a number of decades we were political opponents and held very different views on many, many issues but the one thing we were absolutely united on was the principle that our people were better able to govern themselves than any British government.

"I want to pay tribute to and comment on the work he did in the latter days of his political life in building agreement and leading unionism into a new accommodation with republicans and nationalists.

"In the brief period that we worked together in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, I developed a close working relationship with him which developed into a friendship, which despite our many differences lasted beyond his term in office."

Born in Armagh as son of Baptist minister and and preacher he delivered his first sermon at 16 in County Tyrone and nine years later founded the Free Presbyterian Church. He once threw snowballs at Irish Prime Minister Jack Lynch and his church membership doubled after he was sent to prison for six weeks in 1968 for unlawful assembly after he organised a demonstration that forced civil rights marchers to cut short a parade in Armagh.

He founded the Democratic Unionist Party and topped the poll in 1979 in his first European election.

In 1981, he led 500 men brandishing gun licences in a demonstration in County Antrim.

He resisted strongly the 1993 Downing Street Declaration and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. By 2004 he had decided not to stand again for Europe.

His hatred for Roman Catholicism was public and unmitigated. Among many statements that led to Paisley himself being denounced as a bigot, he condemned the Catholic Church as "the whore of Babylon".

The BBC reported that in spite of poor health and advancing years, he never lost his thunder. Speaking about death during one of his sermons, he said: "If you hear in the press that Ian Paisley is dead, don't believe a word of it. I'll be more alive than ever... I'll be singing as I sang never before."

First Minister Peter Robinson said: "I don't think that there's anyone who has had more influence in Northern Ireland over the years. He made a massive contribution, particularly to the process in which we are currently engaged."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was among those who paid tribute. "I would like to convey my condolences to Baroness Paisley and the family on the sad news today that Lord Bannside, Dr Ian Paisley, has died. He was a passionate advocate for his community, a parliamentarian who made his presence felt in our national life and a man of deep faith.

"History will remember him for many things but above all for having the courage, when he judged the moment to be right, of taking the difficult but vital steps towards reconciliation."