A Man Of Opposites! That’s How I’ll Remember Paisley Senior
One moment he was giving me an exclusive interview about how he was forming the Ulster Resistance paramilitary moment; the next I was reporting on his Christian sermon calling on people to be ‘saved’, then he was inviting me to join his family for dinner at a DUP conference.
But there will always be one abiding memory – the devoted husband.
It was 1982 and Paisley senior had just been elected to the then Northern Assembly. He knew me from my dad, who had been a Free Presbyterian minister at one time.
As Paisley entered the North Antrim count at Ballymena Town Hall, he spied me and boomed if there was any news of Gerry Adams being elected in West Belfast.
Suddenly, he disappeared into the caretaker’s office. His wife, Eileen, had banged her head.
I knocked on the door to tell him news of West Belfast. But the Paisley who greeted me had worry etched all over his face.
He will primarily be known for politics and preaching, but it’s clear being a doting husband was a major priority.
In my study sits a framed photo of my dad and Paisley senior with other ‘Free P’ ministers from the early 1950s and the formation of his fundamentalist Protestant denomination.
I often wonder if he would have become Ireland’s Billy Graham – the globally renowned American evangelist – if Paisley had just stuck to preaching.
In 1981, I chatted to Paisley after the end of the Hunger Strikes when he was launching his Third Force paramilitary group.
How does a Man of God call on people to be ‘born again’, yet condone the formation of vigilante and terror groups, I asked. I never got an answer.
I only ever had one serious confrontation with him. In 2003, when my dad and he were elected as MLAs for North Antrim – Paisley for the DUP and dad for the UUP.
Paisley had taken exception to something I had written in a magazine. He asked my dad to “have a wee word with John because you’re his father!”
Even then as a married man in my forties with children, the paternal instincts still dominated his mind set.
With his passing, not just a chapter, but an entire book of Irish politics has gone into history. But also with his passing, what stories will now be unearthed?
Like or loath him, every Irish person will have their own unique opinion of ‘Big Ian’.