From behind bars: Ian Paisley's prison letters go on display

Ian Paisley outside Stormont in 1969 Image copyright AP
Image caption Ian Paisley pictured outside Stormont in 1969

A selection of letters and drawings has cast a light on former first minster and DUP leader Ian Paisley's time in prison.

He was the political "never never" man who became Northern Ireland's first minister.

Ian Paisley ended up leading a power-sharing executive at Stormont - although he had supported the strike to bring one down 30 years earlier.

From firebrand preacher, he moved on to earn the nickname of "chuckle brother" alongside deputy first minister, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness.

He died in September 2014.

Obituary: Ian Paisley

Last year, the Bannside Library, housing his collection of more than 50,000 books, opened in east Belfast.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Mr Paisley was a preacher before he became involved in politics

And among the memorabilia on display are his letters from jail. He served three months in Crumlin Road prison, 50 years ago, for unlawful assembly.

With time on his hands, the preacher decided to write a book on the Epistle to the Romans. He wrote the pages by hand.

They are written very neatly in red, blue and black ink. He then sent them home to his wife, Eileen, for her to type up.

Image caption The pages are written very neatly in red, blue and black ink

He also wrote letters to his family at home and that collection has now been catalogued by his daughter, Sharon.

He had a guaranteed audience of one for his book in the jail, she said.

Image caption Eileen Paisley, Baroness Bannside, spoke to BBC Radio Ulster's Anne Marie McAleese at library that houses her late husband's book collection

"When Daddy sent these out of prison every week, the governor had to read them to make sure there was nothing that shouldn't coming out of prison, so he had to read the book as well," she said with a smile.

Among the memorabilia is a special handkerchief.

"There was a man in prison who was a gifted artist.

"Mum and dad would have had their tenth wedding anniversary when he was in prison. And the man took one of daddy's handkerchiefs and did the picture of mum from an electioneering poster. It is painted onto the handkerchief," she said.

Image caption A Father's Prayer was painted on an old wet board from the prison yard

The same man saw the hymn written on the fly leaf of Ian Paisley's bible and decided to copy it.

"He lifted this board from the prison yard with wet paint on the back of it and made: A Father's Prayer," said Baroness Paisley.

She said her husband never got the knack of new technology when writing his books and essays.

"He asked me one day if I would look something up in a book, and I said: 'Ian I can get you that on a computer.'

Image caption First prize: The book awarded to the young Ian Paisley when he was 11 years old

"And he said 'How can you? How did it get in the computer?' He almost seemed as if he was scared to touch a computer," she said.

He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of his thousands of books, his widow said.

No matter where he was in the world, he would ring her and tell her exactly where to look in his study - the bookcase, the shelf, how far along the line of books - if he needed a quote from a particular chapter.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness became first and deputy first ministers

And among his treasures was an illustrated guide book which he received as a prize at Sunday School when he was 11 years old.

"Northern Ireland: Our Lesser Known History" by Canon Hugh Forde has been reprinted by the Bannside Library to mark its opening.

Baroness Paisley sees the Bannside library as a fitting tribute to her late husband's love of books.

"It's amazing the people that have taken an interest, right across the religious and political board," she said.

"People have come to see it and to look at books and pick out some and say 'Oh, I never thought he would have a book on this'. And I would say: 'He had books on everything.''"

Baroness Paisley talks to Anne Marie McAleese on Your Place And Mine, BBC Radio Ulster, on Saturday 28 May at 08:05 BST.

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