Highlands & Islands

Charles Kennedy: Funeral for former Liberal Democrat leader held

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Media captionLaura Bicker reports: Family and friends gathered to remember ''a Highland man, a family man''

The funeral service for former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy has been held near his home in the Highlands.

A Mass was celebrated at St John's Roman Catholic Church in Caol before a burial service at Clunes, Achnacarry.

The funeral started at noon, with the congregation singing the hymn Christ Be Beside Me.

Mr Kennedy died at his home in Fort William on 1 June at the age of 55 after suffering a major haemorrhage as a result of his battle with alcoholism.

He had been a Highland MP for 32 years, and led the Lib Dems for more than six years.

The church was packed for the service, which was also relayed through loud speakers to mourners who had gathered outside.

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Steven McKenzie, BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter

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.

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The principal celebrant was Monsignor James MacNeil, Administrator of the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles, while the homily was preached by parish priest Father Roddy McAuley,

The requiem Mass was celebrated at the church where Mr Kennedy's late father and mother, Ian and Mary, were members.

Both of Mr Kennedy's parents - who died in recent years, his father during the general election campaign - were laid to rest at the church.

Fr McAuley said the "much-loved and respected parishioner" would be "sorely missed".

He told the congregation: "Charles Kennedy was a humble man. When Charles's parents died and Charles said a few words in the church, he wouldn't come up here to the lectern but insisted on speaking outside the sanctuary, from the floor.

"In this church, Charles was one of the backbenchers. He didn't always sit in the same pew but he always sat at the back of the church."

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Monsignor MacNeil said the requiem mass would be a "deep moment for the family and for the community in which Charles worshipped - an expression of our faith".

He said he always remembered his encounters with Mr Kennedy, who regularly attended at St John's, and that the local community felt a sense of solidarity in grieving over his loss.

"He was their brother," he said.

Following the service, which lasted more than an hour, a lone piper played Highland Cathedral as the coffin left the church, which sits in the shadow of Ben Nevis.

Hundreds of people, including children from St Columba's RC Primary school, which Mr Kennedy attended as a child, gathered outside as the funeral cortege began its final journey to the private burial at his family's plot in a graveyard at Clunes.

The crowd broke into applause as the hearse was driven past in a final tribute to the former MP.

Under Mr Kennedy's leadership, the Lib Dems won a record 62 seats in 2005 but he resigned eight months after the election after revealing he had been receiving treatment for a long-standing drink problem.

He lost his Ross, Cromarty and Skye seat to the SNP in last month's general election.

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Image caption Charles Kennedy died on 1 June at the age of 55
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Image caption The service was broadcast to mourners outside the church through loudspeakers
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Image caption Politicians including Danny Alexander, Nick Clegg, John Swinney and Gordon Brown attended the church
Image caption The prime minister and his wife sent a floral tribute to Mr Kennedy
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Image caption Mr Kennedy's former wife Sarah Gurling arrived at St John's Roman Catholic Church shortly before the funeral began

Mr Kennedy's ex-wife, Sarah Gurling, and their 10-year-old son, Donald, arrived at around 11:40 as a string ensemble played tunes including The Skye Boat Song.

Senior Lib Dem politicians including Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, Sir Menzies Campbell, Sir Malcolm Bruce and Michael Moore also attended, along with Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Former Labour spin doctor and close friend Alastair Campbell, who previously described Mr Kennedy as a "lovely man" and "highly talented politician", was among the mourners.

A steady stream of local residents also began arriving from 11:00 to say farewell to the former Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP.

Private ceremony

Outside the church, a floral tribute of white roses from Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha carried the message: "The country has lost an extraordinary talent whose character and courage inspired us all."

There is be a memorial service for Mr Kennedy on 18 June at the University of Glasgow, where Inverness-born Mr Kennedy had been a student, union president and later its rector.

Another memorial will be held in London at a later date.

Tributes were paid to Mr Kennedy in the House of Commons last week, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour leader Harriet Harman.

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