Baroness Paisley has revealed that she sent a text to Martin McGuinness the day before he died after she had a “strange feeling” about the man with whom her late husband formed an unlikely bond.
She compared the former Sinn Fein deputy first minister to the Apostle Paul who was converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus.
Her sons Ian Junior and Kyle also spoke of the “remarkable change” in Martin McGuinness.
‘It’s not how you begin your life, it’s how you end it,’ was the resounding message from the Paisley family about the man who made the journey from guns to government.
Speaking to the News Letter, Baroness Paisley said she had not been in touch with Martin McGuinness’s family yet as she felt they needed time.
She said: “I know what it’s like, you’ll get inundated with a lot of calls and messages, so I thought I would give them a wee bit of peace to themselves.”
Baroness Paisley said she had been in contact with Mr McGuinness regularly, mostly via text, since her husband and the Sinn Fein man struck up a relationship as first minister and deputy first minister at Stormont.
She commented: “We were in contact up until a couple of weeks ago. I had sent him a message and then he had replied but the last one I sent to him he didn’t reply to.
“I knew he was in intensive care so I didn’t really expect a reply, I just wanted him to get the message.”
She added: “I pray for him every day as I pray for an awful lot of people.
“I was thinking about him particularly yesterday morning (Monday). I had a strange feeling about him.
“I just sent a message to say that we’re still remembering him and his wife and family in our prayers.
“And of course then the news came through this morning (Tuesday).
“It’s very likely his mobile may have been switched off, but they know they have my sympathy.”
Baroness Paisley went on to compare Mr McGuinness to the Apostle Paul.
She explained that he had been on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians when God spoke to him and changed his path in life.
She said: “God uses different means to speak to us. He knocked the Apostle Paul off his horse on the road to Damascus. He spoke to Martin Luther by sending a lightning bolt. You don’t know what God used on Martin McGuinness, but he did change.”
Along with her husband, Baroness Paisley said they spoke of their faith with the former IRA commander.
She added: “I do know that my husband Ian had a huge influence on him and showed him compassion when he needed it.
“When his mother died I remember we were in London and he’d phoned Martin and given him his condolences.
“He and I both spoke to him on a personal level about faith in Christ. You’ve got to leave that with people, you can’t force what they do after that.”
Baroness Paisley said Mr McGuinness visited their home in Belfast twice, though they had never made it to his home in the Bogside.
She said: “Before Ian took ill he asked me could he come and see him. I said of course you can and he did.
“When Ian died Martin phoned me and asked if he could come to the house, which was strictly private.
“I told him he could come and I was pleased to see him at the house. He went in and stood over Ian’s coffin and was very moved at that time.”
Baroness Paisley said what had happened in the past in Northern Ireland was “hard to get away from” but she believed her late husband and Mr McGuinness, along with countless others, had helped to change the atmosphere in Northern Ireland for the better.
Both the former DUP leader’s sons told how they grew up in fear of McGuinness’s role as an IRA godfather.
“When I was growing up he was the godfather of the Provisional IRA and he was a man who struck terror quite literally into the hearts and into the lives of many many people,” Ian Paisley Jnr told the BBC.
He described Mr McGuinness’s journey from godfather to government as a “remarkable journey” and “something which is incredibly important”.
He added: “I must say as a Christian, as a person who reflects on life, it’s not how you start your life that is important, it’s how you finish your life.
“I think that a lot of people, as I’ve said before, will be thankful that Martin McGuiness finished his life a lot better than it could have been.”
Mr Paisley, who thanked Mr McGuinness for his contribution to saving lives as he stepped down from politics in January, added: “His journey was remarkable and I think that that’s very, very significant but it is one of huge mixed feelings because there will be people out there who were hurt forever by the actions of the godfather.
“But there’s also people out there who have benefited forever by the actions of the man in government.”
In describing Mr McGuinness’s terrorist background to RTE News Mr Paisley used even stronger language.
He said he was regarded by unionists as “evil incarnate” and a “hate figure” adding: “This was the man who had led the Provisionals in Northern Ireland... to destroy our country, to destroy our people.”
Of the deal struck between the DUP and Sinn Fein he said: “Doing a deal with that person was probably the most important arrangement that we had to come to because if we could do a deal with Martin McGuinness, we could then work with any republican because he was the authentic voice of that movement.”
Rev Kyle Paisley was one of the first to express his condolences on Twitter after Mr McGuinness’s death.
He tweeted: “Very sorry to hear about the passing of Martin McGuinness.
“Look back with pleasure on the remarkable year he and my father spent in office together and the great good they did together.
“Will never forget his ongoing care for my father in his ill health.”
Rev Paisley said there would be “mixed feelings” over the passing of a man who “made no bones about his IRA past”.
Talking to Radio Ulster he said: “There will be the feelings of the victims of IRA terrorism in Northern Ireland which we must take account of, yet at the same time you can’t damn a man when he’s done what’s wrong and then damn him when he’s done what’s right.”
He said Mr McGuinness was probably the only man with the credentials among republicans who was also able to win over unionists as he did.