SADNESS and sombreness enveloped the streets of Cookstown on Tuesday as hundreds turned out to pay their last respects to murdered prison officer David Black.
Shops and businesses closed as members of the public stood alongside dignitaries, church leaders and political representatives as the 52 year-old’s funeral cortege made its way to Molesworth Presbyterian Church.
Silence fell on crowds who lined Orritor Street, William Street and Molesworth Street as the married dad-of-two’s remains passed through at 1.10pm.
The Cookstown man’s coffin, draped in a Union flag with his prison officer hat sat on top, was met by a 20-strong honour guard of prison service staff, dressed in uniform to bid farewell to their long serving, committed colleague who died because of his uniform,
Crowds outside Molesworth Presbyterian Church bowed their heads as Mr Black’s 21 year-old son Kyle helped lift his father’s remains inside. The same church which the 52 year-old had sat in with his family just over a week before.
Daughter Kyra, 19, led the touching tributes to her dad, who she called her “special hero”, by reading a poem.
There was also a tribute from son Kyle, who described his father as a ‘family man and a gentleman’, who ‘always had a smile for everyone’.
In his sermon, Molesworth Minister Reverend Tom Greer, who conducted the emotional service, described Mr Black as a man of “honour and principle”, of “kindness and generosity”, and, “a man committed to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland”.
“All those things completely the opposite of the murderous thugs and bloodthirsty criminals who took David’s life,” added the Reverend.
“And what we saw of him here in this church and community was no less obvious to those who knew him in his professional work as a prison officer,” he said.
The Minister also talked about how a number of former prisoners, previously supervised by the 52 year-old during his work, had contacted the church in the days following his death.
“We’ve had a few of them phone our home and one write a card to express the shock they felt and the regard they had for David in his work,” said the Reverend.
“Very poignantly one former remand prisoner said this; ‘David always showed me kindness and respect. Indeed David changed my life...He pointed me to the Christian faith.’”
“You see David viewed his work as something that was meant to improve society.
“He wanted those who came into prison to leave as changed men. And one of the things he was concerned about to that end was their spiritual well-being.
“He was always adamant that prisoners have the opportunity to meet with a pastor or a chaplain who would address the real issues in a person’s heart - for society only changes for the better when people’s hearts are changed,” he said.
Rev Greer also paid tribute to his friend’s humour.
“You know, one of the things I loved about David was his humour. You see, in my mind David did have one significant fault - he supported Manchester United.
“And just occasionally in church, maybe when speaking to the children, I would have a dig at Man United and joke about those who supported them.
So you could be sure that when David was leaving church he would say - ‘Aw you were at us again to day?’ And I’d say - ‘What was that David’ And he say - ‘The Man. United men - you can’t leave us alone’.
“But he’d say it with a great big smile on his face, and you knew he saw the humour in all the banter.
“It is those little things that endeared David to so many of us - quite apart from the big things that he contributed into the life of this community and that very special love that he poured into his home and family life.”
Presbyterian Moderator Rev Roy Patton also took part in the service.
He told mourners: “I am confident that in offering our sympathy to you and assuring you of our prayers that I do so not only on behalf of the Presbyterian Church but of the whole community.”
“We are together in this, totally united as churches, politicians, civic society, ordinary men and women who feel for you today in your unspeakable loss, and who in the strongest possible terms are outraged by such an evil deed.
“This attack on a prison officer was an attack on this whole community.”
Mourners included the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Matt Baggott, the director of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Sue McAllister, the first minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, and the leader of the SDLP, Alasdair McDonnell.
The deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, is understood to have offered to attend the funeral, but the family requested that no members of Sinn Fein should turn up. McGuinness is understood to have expressed his desire to respect the family’s wishes.
David Black was the 20th prison officer murdered by paramilitaries since the early 1970s.
He was buried after a private ceremony in Kildress parish cemetery.
As the funeral was taking place, several hundred people turned up for a vigil at Belfast city hall organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
A lone piper played a lament and Black’s killers were denounced from the platform by the trade union movement.