Northern Ireland

Ian Paisley memorial unveiled in Belfast

Paisley sculpture
Image caption The sculpture was made out of a tree from the garden of the Paisley home

Former Taoiseach (Irish PM) Bertie Ahern was among family and friends of the late Ian Paisley who gathered to remember him on what would have been his 93rd birthday.

Catholic priest Fr Brian D'Arcy was also at the event on Saturday - the unveiling of a sculpture dedicated to the former DUP leader and first minister of Northern Ireland.

The sculpture was made out of a tree from the garden of the Paisley family home in east Belfast.

Lord Paisley's widow, Baroness Paisley, explained the story of the sculpture.

She said: "We had a beautiful wych elm tree. It succumbed to age and we had to take the sad and upsetting decision to have it felled.

"Our daughter Rhonda thought we might be able to use the tree as a memorial piece to Ian, so we began to make that happen."

Image caption Baroness Paisley commissioned County Galway woodturner Liam O'Neill to make the sculpture

A woodturner from Spiddal in County Galway, Liam O'Neill, was commissioned by the Paisley family.

The family already owned a piece of his work, a bowl turned from a walnut tree which had stood on the site of the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, near Drogheda.

It was given to Lord and Lady Paisley in 2006 by Mr Ahern to mark their 50th wedding anniversary.

'Great friends'

At the time, Mr Ahern was taoiseach and the gift was presented at the conclusion of the St Andrew's negotiations in Scotland which paved the way for the DUP and Sinn Féin to enter into government together the following year.

Known as the 'Bertie Bowl', the gift helped break down the long-held suspicion of the Paisleys towards the Irish government.

Speaking on Saturday at the unveiling of the new sculpture, Mr Ahern said: "After coming from different backgrounds, and different ways of looking at things, we turned out to be great friends."

Image caption Ian Paisley Jr and Bertie Ahern greeted each other with a hug at the event

Among the other politicians at the event were DUP North Antrim assembly member Mervyn Storey and former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers.

The detailed carving work on the sculpture was done by Phillip Steele, who is based at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum near Holywood in County Down.

Image caption The sculpture will soon be on display in east Belfast

Lord Paisley died at the age of 88 in September 2014 after a long career in the House of Commons, House of Lords, European Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly.

On the base of the sculpture there is a flax flower representing the assembly, a portcullis representing Westminster and five stars representing the five terms he served in the European Parliament.

The sculpture will soon go on display in east Belfast.

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