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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Westminster funeral for Lord Fitt
Pallbearers carry the coffin of Lord Fitt in Westminster Cathedral
Leading politicians have attended the funeral of former SDLP leader Lord Gerry Fitt.

Lord Fitt, 79, who suffered from a heart condition, died at a relative's home in England on Friday after several months of declining health.

His funeral, at Westminster Cathedral in London, was followed by a private family burial.

Among those present were joint Nobel Peace Prize winners, Ulster Unionist David Trimble and the SDLP's John Hume.

Earlier, a special Mass was held in Crossgar, County Down, where Lord Fitt was married in the 1940s.

Lord Fitt had lived in England for many years. His wife, Anne, died in 1996 after contracting MRSA in a London hospital.

In his heyday, he was the dominant voice of nationalism, but his outspoken criticism of republican violence lost him votes and his Westminster seat.

Lord Fitt died at a relative's home in England

He was one of the co-founders of the SDLP in 1970, by which time he had won seats in Westminster, the Stormont assembly and the old Belfast corporation.

Among those who attended the funeral were representatives of the British and Irish governments, MPs, including Northern Ireland-born Kate Hoey, and celebrities, including the television presenter Henry Kelly and comedian Frank Carson.

Readings included a passage from the Book of Wisdom, read by his daughter Eileen, which included the line: "The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God and no torment will ever touch them."

There was also a reading of The Lake Isle of Innisfree by WB Yeats and a violin performance of Danny Boy.

Journalist Chris Ryder, a close friend of Lord Fitt, told mourners of an incident on a flight from London to Belfast when Fitt managed to persuade the crew to let him take the last available seat - the jump seat in the cockpit.

"When he emerged through the door in mid-flight to visit the lavatory, there in the front row was an astonished Reverend Ian Paisley," he said.

Human behaviour was Gerry's speciality, he was wonderful company, a born raconteur with an endless supply of jokes and funny stories
Austin Currie

"`Don't worry, I've left it on automatic pilot,' he told his great political rival as he pushed past."

Mr Ryder told the congregation Lord Fitt's great passion had been the cause of social justice and peace in Ireland, but that he also had a lighter side.

Fellow SDLP founder Austin Currie also spoke of the humour of his political friend.

"Human behaviour was Gerry's speciality, he was wonderful company, a born raconteur with an endless supply of jokes and funny stories, most of them un-parliamentary and most of them unsuitable for telling in the august surroundings we are in today," he said.

Lord Fitt came to world attention on 5 October 1968 when, as an elected official, he was among the civil rights marchers beaten by police.

Images of Fitt, his forehead and shirt blood-stained, went around the globe.

He went on to forge a power-sharing compromise following the Sunningdale agreement.

He quit the leadership of the SDLP in 1979.




SEE ALSO:
First SDLP leader Lord Fitt dies
26 Aug 05 |  Northern Ireland
Obituary: Gerry Fitt
26 Aug 05 |  Northern Ireland
Political tributes to Lord Fitt
26 Aug 05 |  Northern Ireland


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