"Dark men did a dark deed" when they murdered prison officer Adrian "Izzy" Ismay, mourners were told at his funeral service in loyalist west Belfast.
Woodvale Methodist Church on Cambrai Street just off the Shankill Road and a church hall close by were full to overflowing while hundreds more gathered on the street outside for the funeral of Mr Ismay (52), who was fatally injured in a "New IRA" bomb attack earlier this month.
The chief mourners were Mr Ismay’s wife Sharon and their three daughters, Samantha, Sarah and Tori.
They were joined by scores of Mr Ismay’s prison officer colleagues, politicians, PSNI officers, senior civil servants and other dignitaries for the service. Prison visits were cancelled in the North so that fellow officers could attend the funeral.
The Rev Colin Duncan, who led the service, said prison officers were concerned they should be targeted in such murderous fashion. He said he recently held a meeting with Protestant and Catholic women and recalled one of the women lamenting the murder and saying, "Please God don't let us go back to those days."
The president of the Methodist Church of Ireland, the Rev Brian Anderson, said people rejected those who planted the under-car bomb that seriously injured Mr Ismay in East Belfast on March 4th.
Mr Ismay was released from hospital and appeared to be recovering well but died 11 days later from a heart attack directly related to the bombing. A man has appeared in court in connection with his murder.
“In the darkest part of night, probably dressed in dark clothes, dark men did a dark, dark deed, bringing us to this place today, leading to the loss of Izzy, causing us to travel through the valley of the shadow of death,” said Rev Anderson.
He said the overwhelming number of people abhorred what was done by the bombers. "We reject what you have done, we stand against what you have done, we want to build an inclusive peaceful society in Northern Ireland and your contribution to it we do not want," he added.
Mr Ismay, a native of Carlisle in England and a prison officer since 1987, previously served in the British Royal Navy and saw action in the Falklands War.
Mr Anderson described him as a “public servant” who also assisted people through his work in St John’s Ambulance, the scouts and the community rescue service.
Mr Ismay’s brother-in-law Ron Abrahams said the prison officer was a man who was generous to a fault. “He never distinguished people by race, religion or colour. He expected nothing of anyone that he didn’t expect of himself.”
Members of Mr Black's family attended the funeral, as did Kate Carroll, widow of Constable Stephen Carroll, murdered by the Continuity IRA in 2009.
The Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers attended the funeral as did DUP First Minister Arlene Foster; UUP leader Mike Nesbitt; Alliance leader and Minister of Justice David Ford; SDLP deputy leader Fearghal McKinney; and TUV leader Jim Allister. PSNI chief constable George Hamilton also attended.
Several prison officers from the Republic, as well as from Britain, joined their colleagues from the Northern Ireland Prison Service at the service. Michael Donnellan, director general of the Irish Prison Service attended. The Government was represented by Noel Watters, secretary general of the Department of Justice and Equality.
Separately, at lunchtime in Belfast city centre hundreds of people attended a silent vigil organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to remember Mr Ismay.
Some dissident prisoners in Maghaberry Prison reportedly celebrated when they learned of Mr Ismay's death. He is the second prison officer to have been murdered by the "New IRA". The other victim was David Black who was shot dead in 2012.