Mixed reaction from writers over death of intractable icon

Arts community praises Paisley’s vitality, but some find it hard to forgive his divisive role

Poet Paul Muldoon: “Even at his most vituperative there was a vitality”

Poet Paul Muldoon: “Even at his most vituperative there was a vitality”


There was a strong, though mixed, reaction yesterday to the news of Ian Paisley’s death from the arts community.

“Even at his most vituperative there was a vitality and, for better or worse, a veracity to Ian Paisley that is rare in political circles,” said Co Armagh-born poet Paul Muldoon. “No talking out of both sides of that big mouth. In other words, one may not have liked what he said, but one was in no doubt of what it was he was saying.

“And then the great shift. It was as if he’d been mulling over the arc of the biopic (starring Liam Neeson?) and realised that something had to happen in the third reel. Something like salvation. Something like redemption.”

Belfast playwright Gary Mitchell got to know Dr Paisley after he was approached by the family to write a screenplay of his life.

“I found him to be hilarious, approachable and very down to earth. So my main feeling is sorrow for his family, who will be so sad at the passing of the man they loved, as will hundreds of thousands of other people.

“Unfortunately, there will probably be as many people who are happy that he has passed, as when Margaret Thatcher died. But my thoughts are with his family.”

Novelist Eoin McNamee has strong memories from his youth of Dr Paisley. “Talking about Ian Paisley, and being conscious of his family, there’s a sense of resentment at having to measure your words about a man who never seemed anxious to measure his own. My direct memories of him are of when he came to my home town of Kilkeel in Co Down.

“He’d be on a hill above the town and you’d hear this baleful lyric over the air, and the temperature was raised to such an extent that you wouldn’t be allowed into the town on those occasions when you were a child, nor would you venture in when you were an adult. So I think he was hardwired into an atavistic impulse in loyalism.

“What’s hardest to forgive is the role he played in sweeping away that hopeful generation of progressive Protestants and Catholics.”