Highlands & Islands

Mourners gather to remember 'political giant' Charles Kennedy

Media gather outside the church Image copyright PA
Image caption Ben Nevis looms large behind the church in Caol

In the shadow of Britain's tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, hundreds gathered to remember a man many regarded as a giant in British politics.

Charles Kennedy's funeral has taken place in Caol, a village on the northern shore of Loch Linnhe near his home in Fort William.

Mourners arrived in the sunshine for the Mass, which was celebrated at St John's Roman Catholic Church.

Ben Nevis, still with patches of snow on the top, looms large behind the church - but few of those attending paused to take in the view, instead heading inside with heads bowed.

Family and friends, some of the men dressed in kilts, walked in with political figures such as Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and Alistair Campbell.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Hundreds of mourners have arrived for the funeral at St John's Roman Catholic Church
Image copyright PA
Image copyright PA

A group of children from Lochyside Primary School, who were singing a psalm during the Mass, trooped off a minibus in their shirtsleeves before going inside.

Due to the size of the turnout expected for the service, arrangements were made to pipe the Mass outside to those unable to find a seat in St John's.

Mr Kennedy, a former Lib Dem leader, died suddenly a week ago at the age of 55 after suffering a major haemorrhage as a result of a long battle with alcoholism.

Beyond its impact on his family, friends and colleagues. his death cast a shadow on the local politics of the area he had, until May's general election, represented as an MP for 32 years.

Place of Pastures

After the election, he returned home to the croft house his grandfather had built near Fort William.

Following his death, a friend recalled how at primary school Mr Kennedy would proudly lead classmates on trips to feed lambs on his grandad's croft.

During the Mass, Father Roddy McAuley said "beautiful tributes" had been paid to Mr Kennedy over the past week.

In his homily, he described the former political leader as a humble man and, when visiting the church, a "backbencher", preferring to sit at the back than take a pew near the front.

He also recalled Mr Kennedy's love of music and quoted him as saying "I hate the sound of silence, the concept I mean, not the track by Simon and Garfunkel".

Businessman Brian McBride recalled his close friend's "smiling eyes", humour and "huge public service ethos".

Mr McBride said: "He was bright, but not overbearing."

He said Mr Kennedy had close bond with his parents and going on to have his family had a big positive effect on his life.

Of Mr Kennedy's alcoholism, Mr McBride said his friend had never lied about it and would have his "ups and downs" and "good and bad days".

Mr McBride's tribute ended with loud applause from those in the church.

The Mass ended with pipe and fiddle music - Mr Kennedy's late mother and father were both musicians and had played at the church for more than 40 years.

Mourners later followed the hearse carrying Mr Kennedy's body in a slow procession from the entrance the church to the road where it would start its journey to Clunes in the hills, on the shores of Loch Lochy.

People leaving the church gathered outside in the warm sunshine and applauded as the hearse passed.

Two flags - a saltire and a lion rampant - on flagpoles in a garden opposite the church fluttered in a cool breeze.

Mr Kennedy was being buried at his family's plot in a graveyard at Clunes - or Cluaineis in Gaelic, which means Place of Pastures.

It seems an appropriate resting place for a man who had revelled in being a boy from a croft.

More on this story