Today will be an exceptionally sad day for Northern Ireland as a political legend - Lord Trimble - is laid to rest.
Credited by all sides in the Irish conflict as being one of the grand architects of the peace process which produced the Good Friday Agreement, he is another of that famous ‘Class of 1998’ which guided Stormont into some of its best days since the original Parliament was prorogued in 1972.
Other famous names associated with that era in the late Nineties - including Seamus Mallon, John Hume, David Ervine, Martin McGuinness and others, such as my late dad, Rev Dr Robert Coulter MBE, who played a role in the background - have all passed away.
Perhaps the single biggest achievement of that Class of 1998 was the fact that whilst he bitterly opposed the Good Friday Agreement and was a leading light in the Unionist No campaign, former DUP leader and Moderator of the fundamentalist Protestant denomination, the Rev Ian Paisley, later Lord Bannside, eventually had a Biblical-style ‘Road to Damascus’ political conversion over the devolved Parliament and became its first DUP First Minister with the former IRA commander in Londonderry Martin McGuinness as his deputy - a relationships dubbed ‘The Chuckle Brothers.’
Indeed, Lord Trimble was also one of the many political figures for whom the Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent Northern Ireland Assembly became a similar ‘Road to Damascus’ conversion.
I first met Lord Trimble in the 1980s as a senior journalist at the Belfast News Letter when he was a lecturer at Belfast’s Queen’s University. Trimble began his political journey of discovery as a supporter of the hardline Unionist Vanguard movement, and it was against that background that my first major interview with him took place.
I came away from that initial feature-length interview with the perception he was hinting at an independent Ulster if Northern Ireland was faced with Irish Unity.
Later, I interviewed him in his capacity and involvement with the Ulster Society - Unionism’s supposed literary wing. But it was also in 1998 that that organisation, the Ulster Society, was to ram home to me the difficulties which Trimble would face in bringing the entire Unionist family with him into the peace process.
Ironically, when former UUP leader ‘Gentleman Jim’ Molyneaux retired as party boss, Trimble was one of a number of senior Unionist figures who threw their hats into the ring.
The firm favourites at that time in the 1990s were Strangford MP John Taylor, which clearly represented the Right-wing of the party, and Rev Martin Smyth, a Presbyterian minister, South Belfast MP, and Grand Master of the Orange Order, who represented grassroots Ulster Unionist.
But then came Drumcree One in 1995 and Trimble was pictured hand in hand aloft with Paisley as they walked past from the Garvaghey Road in Portadown. That unintentional ‘triumphal’ march secured Trimble the UUP crown.
In 1998, I had been working with the Ulster Society on a book to be called The Orange Card, which explored the relationship between the Loyal Orders and Loyalism and Unionism.
Before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April that year, I could not have asked for better professional support from the Ulster Society.
But once it became clear my book would urge Unionism to support both the Good Friday Agreement and Trimble himself, the attitude of the Ulster Society changed dramatically towards me as an author.
Finally, the project was dropped with the excuse that the late George Dawson, the then Grand Master of the pro-Paisleyite and anti-Agreement Independent Orange Order, had objected strongly to my including remarks about the true role of a Christian fundamentalist pressure group, The Caleb Foundation, which was to be formally launched that October.
The perception was that the Ulster Society had become the literary wing of the Unionist ‘No’ camp, and Caleb was nothing more than a recruiting front either for the Independent Orange Order, or to rally Christian Church support against the Agreement.
Given this radical realignment within Unionism, it was a mirror image of the challenges which Trimble would have to endure if the peace process was to succeed, the Stormont Assembly was not to face the same fate as the power-sharing Sunningdale Executive and even the Good Friday Agreement would be scrapped and confined to the dustbin of history.
Perhaps there are still no major big beasts politically left from the Class of 1998 and that original Assembly mandate.
So the 2022 mandate faces a huge challenge - not to let the achievements of Trimble et all slide into history. As First Minister, David Trimble guided the Assembly through some very unstable days - but Stormont survived.
The Northern Ireland Protocol, the cost of living crisis, dissident republicanism, a surging TUV and extensive unease brewing in the loyalist community could all have detrimental effects on the future of Stormont.
In short, as Trimble is laid to rest today, the Class of 2022 must swear allegiance to the people of Northern Ireland that they will find a way to restore the Assembly as Trimble did in his era.
The political legends that were Trimble et al delivered power-sharing. It would be a terrible shame if the current MLAs tarnished his legacy with the total collapse of Stormont.
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.