Northern Ireland has lost a visionary son, Christopher Stalford funeral hears

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

26 February 2022

Northern Ireland has lost a “proud and visionary son,” the funeral of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford has heard.

The popular politician, whose funeral was attended by figures from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland, was a “south Belfast boy through and through”, mourners were told, who deeply loved his family and community.

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.

Christopher Stalford funeral
The Hearse carrying the coffin of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford (Peter Morrison/PA)

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

Leaders from across unionism in Northern Ireland were there too, including Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister.

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson was also in attendance, alongside the Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Rev Mervyn Gibson.

Senior Sinn Fein figures, including communities ministers Deirdre Hargey and Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey, were among the mourners.

Deputy leader Nichola Mallon, as well as South Belfast representatives Claire Hanna and Matthew O’Toole, attended the funeral on behalf of the SDLP.

Naomi Long, the leader of the Alliance Party, as well as Claire Bailey, the Green Party leader, were also in attendance.

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

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

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

Fellow MLA William Humphrey delivered a moving tribute to his friend and colleague, who he said probably developed his passion for politics “in the pram”.

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

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

“We are all devastated by his passing.

“He was unique. A true character. He had a huge intellect, with a sharp mind and a great sense of humour.

“Our world is the poorer for Christopher’s passing.

“We have lost a most able and valued colleague. Stormont has lost a brilliant parliamentarian. Unionism has lost a great advocate. South Belfast, an exceptional representative. And Northern Ireland, a proud and visionary son.

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

Christopher Stalford funeral
Laura Stalford arrives for the funeral of her husband (Peter Morrison/PA)

The service on Saturday heard that the local politician grew up as “bright boy” who as a teenager liked to use “large, 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 his roots in the local community.

“So you know what whenever Christopher went to canvas the area, he made sure everyone knew where he went to school so they knew that he was a south Belfast boy through and through,” Rev Marty Gray told the congregation.

But he said that the MLA was “proud of his working-class upbringing”.

“He was proud of being from down the road, and not up the road.

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

“All he could see where the roofs of terrace houses. So he got drawing.”

Rev Gray that when step-dad Eric was “amazed” at what the young man drew.

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

Mr Stalford was not averse to causing trouble, Rev Gray recounted, even when at school.

Rev Gray recalled how when his school made a decision not to sell poppies for the Royal British Legion anymore, the young Christopher was outraged.

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

“He was able to get around it by being clever, by being political.”

Rev 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 future politician had a “wee thing for” even as a child.

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

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

“But that didn’t put her off.”

He said that the couple were “inseparable” from the age of 16.

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

“Christopher loved a bargain. He loved charity shops.”

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

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

“Christopher died very suddenly last Saturday night. He took unwell and despite the best efforts of two teams of paramedics he passed away,” the service heard.

“The next morning, that was a testament of how much of an impact his faith and Laura’s faith had had on their family,” Rev Gray.

“Because after Laura broke the news to the children, Cameron said: ‘Will we pray now?’. And all four children prayed.”

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

“Today we grieve for the years ahead that he will not see. Today, we grieve for the ambitions he will not get to fulfil.”

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