Mourners at David Trimble's funeral hear of determined leader who left an enduring legacy – The Irish Times

Mourners at David Trimble’s funeral hear of determined leader who left an enduring legacy – The Irish Times

Former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble “always had the courage of his convictions and was prepared to pay the cost”, mourners at his funeral were told.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, President Michael D Higgins and UK prime minister Boris Johnson were among those who attended Monday’s service at Harmony Hill Presbyterian Church in Lisburn.

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill, Northern Secretary Shailesh Vara, former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, DUP leader Jefferey Donaldson and representatives from all the main political parties also packed into the small Co Antrim church, where the Trimble family regularly worship.

Mr Trimble (77) played an instrumental role in The Belfast Agreement negotiations and was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with John Hume for their achievements in brokering the historic peace deal.

The former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader died a week ago following a short illness.

A “shy, modest and reserved” person who enjoyed narrow boating in English canals at speeds of four miles per hour during his latter years, Mr Trimble would not have known how to respond to the “entirely deserved” accolades, the former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland told the congregation.

Rev Dr Charles McMullan described him as a “committed family man” and politician “who, alongside others, rose to seemingly impossible challenges with considerable strength of character, intellectual acumen, and complete integrity”.

“The reward for all of us has been a radically changed landscape here in Northern Ireland, which has saved many lives and allowed a generation to grow up in relative peace.

“As so many have said over these past few days, history will be exceedingly kind to David even if life brought many unrelenting pressures and demands.”

Mr Trimble’s wife, Daphne, his “soulmate”, was singled out throughout the service as she sat in the front row flanked by her children and grandchildren.

The couple met at Queen’s University Belfast in the 1970s when Mr Trimble was a law lecturer, and she was about to graduate in the subject. They had four children.

“I am sure he would have wanted this tribute to be as much about you, Daphne, because you have been his constant companion and soulmate since your marriage in 1978, and his achievements would not have been possible without your unwavering support,” Dr McMullan said.

Mourners heard that after becoming first minister, Mr Trimble cut short a family holiday to return home and visit the scene of the Omagh bomb in 1998.

“It was an experience that left him utterly devastated but doubled his determination to keep building bridges and working for peace,” Dr McMullan said.

“I can remember bumping into him days after the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement and hearing how, afterwards, on his way home he had gone to a hole in the wall but could not remember his pin number.

“That was an indication of being under almost unbearable stress, but then he always had the courage of his convictions and was prepared to pay the cost.”

An appeal was issued during the funeral to current political leaders to break the impasse at Stormont.

The power-sharing institutions have effectively collapsed since the DUP refused to elect a Speaker as part of its ongoing protest over the Northern protocol.

Stormont will reconvene for a special sitting to pay tribute to Mr Trimble on Tuesday.

Dr McMullen said he hoped the service could be used as an inspiration to resolve political differences in Northern Ireland.

“Can we use this service today, in a fitting tribute to one of the great, to redouble our efforts on this island home of ours?

“With courage, pragmatism and generosity of spirit, may our politicians engage wholeheartedly in resolving the outstanding issues surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol, so that our democratic institutions are quickly restored and we can all move forward together.”

Biographer Dean Godson also delivered a tribute, saying Mr Trimble was the “most prestigious and substantial figure thrown up by unionism” since the foundation of Northern Ireland in 1921.

“In death he is finally being afforded the respect and love from all communities on this island that he deserves, and did not always receive in the height of his powers.”

The Conservative peer became his friend and said he wanted to speak with the “candour and honesty” of the man.

“He was not an easy man in a conventional sense. . . even to speak about him is not an easy task. To the very end there was nothing politically correct about him.

“He was thran, even spiky. But the flip side was an unmatched tenacity and toughness which stood him in excellent stead throughout the perilous violence of the Troubles which took the lives of a number of students and colleagues at Queen’s University.

“That toughness made him resolve in the face of the physical threats after The Belfast Agreement.”

Mr Godson added that while Mr Trimble could be “irritable at times”, he was “as cool as a cucumber” on “the big strategic questions of the day”.

“So cool that he didn’t even let moments of triumph turn his head. I remember on the day that he and Seamus Mallon were elected first and deputy first minister. A Channel 4 film crew asked him: ‘How do you feel about this historic day Mr Trimble?’

“’Fed up with hearing it’s a historic day’ replied David Trimble.”

Directly addressing Bertie Ahern in the congregation – who returned early from holiday to be present – ​​Mr Godson also said how “delighted” Mr Trimble would be knowing “he was here today”.

Other mourners included the Queen’s representative, the US consul general, representatives of Catholic and Protestant churches, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne, artist Colin Davidson and writers Ruth Dudley Edwards and Kevin Myers.

NIO Minister Conor Burns, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister, SDLP leader Colm Eastwood, former journalists Ken Reid and Stephen Grimason, and former SDLP deputy first minister Minister Mark Durkan were also present.

Following the service, current UUP leader Doug Beattie said Mr Trimble’s legacy is “easy to quantify”:

“It is peace in Northern Ireland, it is a less divided, less sectarian society.”

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