Northern Ireland has lost a visionary son, according to funeral of Christopher Stalford

Funeral of Christopher Stalford

Northern Ireland has lost a ‘proud and visionary son’, the funeral of DUP MP Christopher Stalford heard.

The popular politician, whose funeral brought together figures from all political walks of life in Northern Ireland, was a ‘south Belfast boy through and through’, the mourners have said, who loved his family and community dearly .

Friends, colleagues and fellow politicians gathered in south Belfast on Saturday afternoon to pay their respects to Mr Stalford.

The 39-year-old father of four died suddenly last weekend.

Funeral of Christopher Stalford
The hearse carrying the coffin of DUP MP Christopher Stalford (Peter Morrison/PA)

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, alongside MPs and MPs from the party, was part of the congregation at Ravenhill Presbyterian Church in south Belfast.

Leaders from across Northern Ireland’s trade unionism also attended, including Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie and traditional Unionist voice leader Jim Allister.

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson was also present, alongside Orange Order Grand Secretary Reverend Mervyn Gibson.

Sinn Fein figures including Community Ministers Deirdre Hargey and Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey were among the mourners.

Deputy Leader Nichola Mallon, along with South Belfast Representatives Claire Hanna and Matthew O’Toole, attended the funeral on behalf of the SDLP.

Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance Party, and Claire Bailey, leader of the Green Party, were also present.

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Kate Nicholl, also arrived to pay her respects.

Funeral of Christopher Stalford
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson arrives for the funeral (Peter Morrison/PA)

Inside the church, his wife Laura Stalford and four children heard about how the husband and father lived for politics – but always put his family first.

Fellow MP William Humphrey paid a moving tribute to his friend and colleague, who he said likely developed his passion for politics ‘in the pram’.

Recalling how he joined the DUP as a teenager, Mr Humphrey said Mr Stalford was “totally committed” to the party.

He said, “He often said to me, ‘I’m like a stick of rock. If you cut me in half, it will say DUP’.

“We are all devastated by his passing.

“He was unique. A real character. He had great intelligence, a quick wit and a great sense of humor.

“Our world is poorer since Christopher died.

“We have lost a most competent and valued colleague. Stormont has lost a brilliant parliamentarian. Trade unionism has lost a great defender. South Belfast, an exceptional representative. And Northern Ireland, a proud and visionary son.

“However, our loss is nothing compared to the immense loss his family will feel today.”

Funeral of Christopher Stalford
Laura Stalford arrives for her husband’s funeral (Peter Morrison/PA)

Saturday’s service heard the local politician grew up a “brilliant lad” who, as a teenager, liked to use “broad and bold words”.

Educated in south Belfast and an alumnus of Wellington College and Queen’s University, the funeral heard that Mr Stalford made sure voters knew about his roots in the local community.

“So you know every time Christopher went to survey the area he made sure everyone knew where he went to school so they knew he was a boy from south Belfast from the end end,” Reverend Marty Gray told the congregation.

But he said the MP was “proud of his labor education”.

“He was proud to be from down the road, not up.

“One evening, for his art homework at Wellington College, he was asked to draw a picture of what he saw outside his bedroom window.

“All he could see were the roofs of the terraced houses. So he started drawing.

Rev Gray only when his stepfather Eric was “amazed” by what the young man drew.

He added: “Not how good Christopher’s drawing was – but fields and sheep that Christopher had drawn.”

Mr Stalford was not averse to causing trouble, Reverend Gray said, even at school.

Reverend Gray recalled how when his school made the decision to no longer sell poppies for the Royal British Legion, young Christopher was outraged.

So he bought a box of poppies with his own money and “gave them out as gifts” at school.

“He was able to get around that by being smart, by being political.”

Reverend Gray reminded the congregation that Mr Stalford had a childhood “marked by tragedy”, after his father died when Christopher was just seven years old.

But he also spoke of Mr Stalford’s deep love for his wife Laura, who the soon-to-be politician had a ‘little thing’ for even as a child.

He told mourners the couple were married by the Reverend Ian Paisley, who broke off a meeting with Tony Blair to wed the couple when they were 21.

He said: “When he was 16, he, after torturing Laura for quite a while, Laura finally agreed to go out with him. Their first date was at a local fish and chip shop where Christopher, in his calamitous way, managed to get red sauce all over Laura.

“But that didn’t deter her.”

He said the couple had been “inseparable” since they were 16.

The Belfast church heard a vivid picture of the couple’s married life and their long walks home because the ‘frugal Christopher’ avoided paying a taxi.

“Christopher liked bargains. He liked charity shops.

The funeral service was also told how much Mr Stalford loved his children, even taking them to Belfast City Hall with him.

“Trinity, Oliver, Cameron and Abigail, they were the apple of his eye. He loved being around them.

“Christopher passed away very suddenly last Saturday evening. He fell ill and despite the best efforts of two paramedic teams, he passed away,” the service said.

“The next morning was a testament to the impact his faith and Laura’s faith had had on their family,” Reverend Gray said.

“Because after Laura broke the news to the kids, Cameron said, ‘Are we going to pray now?’ And the four children prayed.

Mr Stalford, he said, was a Christian who had “so many ambitions for the future”.

“Today we mourn the years to come that he will not see. Today we mourn the ambitions that he will not be able to achieve.

Outside the church, voters and residents gathered to say goodbye.

They saw veteran politicians wiping away their tears and hugging each other at the entrance to the church.

Dozens of people lined the road as the motorcade drove away, with the city’s iconic Samson and Goliath cranes visible in the distance.

Pauline and Doreen, two friends, were among the crowd.

They knew the family, the pair said, and Mr Stalford was a great community representative.

“He was an amazing guy,” Doreen said.