Northern Ireland

Funeral service for Alex Higgins at Belfast cathedral

Media captionHundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral in Belfast

The funeral of the former world snooker player Alex Higgins has taken place in his home city of Belfast.

Past and present stars of the game, including Stephen Hendry, Ken Doherty and Joe Swail joined mourners in St Anne's Cathedral to remember his life.

Hundreds more people gathered outside the cathedral to pay their respects.

The Dean of Belfast, Houston McKelvey, who led the service described him as a person of prodigious talent at his chosen sport.

The 61-year-old died last month after a long battle with throat cancer.

Addressing the mourners, Dean McKelvey said he had asked himself how best the city and sporting community should mark Alex Higgins' life.

'Greatest temptations'

"How do we honour a Donegall Road man, a world-beater who died of cancer?"

He said a practical way to honour Alex Higgins' memory was to make donations to the cancer centre at the City Hospital in Belfast, close to where the snooker player was born.

He said the player had encountered two of the greatest temptations possible - fame and fortune, and had found it difficult to cope with both.

"He was not the first to find this difficult and he certainly will not be the last.

"When things turned sour for 'Higgy' he came home, to the city in which he was born, to the place in which he was raised, to where he didn't have to say who he was," he said.

Houston McKelvey also read a tribute on behalf of fellow snooker player, Jimmy White.

The tribute read: "Only a year ago, Alex was talking about playing again and coming on the road with me.

"It angers me that he never listened to anyone, close friends or family but that was Alex.

"He was an individual, his own man, he was The Hurricane.

"I will miss him to the end."

Also during the service, the 400-strong congregation heard the former snooker star's daughter, Lauren, pay tribute to her father as she read out a poem she had written.

After the service, members of the public waited outside to see his coffin leave St Anne's.

Later, Alex Higgins was buried at Carnmoney Cemetery on the outskirts of north Belfast.

Earlier on Monday, a private service was held at his sister's home in south Belfast before the coffin was taken through the city streets in a horse-drawn carriage.

Thousands lined the funeral route to pay their respects.

Several hundred onlookers applauded and cheered as Higgins' coffin was taken along the Donegall Road and Sandy Row - the area where he grew up.

There was a short pause at his birthplace at Abbington Street.

The procession then continued on to Hope Street, Great Victoria Street, Fisherwick Place, Wellington Place, Donegall Place, Royal Avenue and then to the cathedral at Lower Donegall Street.

Controversial

Higgins won the snooker world championship twice, in 1972 and 1982.

A controversial figure, he was banned from five tournaments and fined £12,000 in 1986 when he headbutted UK Championship tournament director Paul Hatherell.

In 1990 Higgins was banned for the rest of the season after he punched a tournament director at the World Championship.

Despite his numerous fights and rows with referees, he continued to play the game regularly and appeared at the Irish Professional Championship in 2005 and 2006.

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