BELFAST, Northern Ireland, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Rev. Ian Paisley, remembered for his fiery religious and political rhetoric and also for his later role as a peacemaker, died Friday at the age of 88.
His wife, Eileen, released a statement announcing his death.
"My beloved husband, Ian, entered his eternal rest this morning.
"Although ours is the grand hope of reunion, naturally as a family we are heartbroken. We loved him and he adored us, and our earthly lives are forever changed."
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair paid tribute to Paisley, calling him "a man of deep convictions" and one whose appreciation for the possibility of peace in Northern Ireland grew "gradually and with much soul searching."
Although "He began as the militant," said Blair, "He ended as the peace-maker."
Born in 1926 in Armagh, Paisley became an evangelical Protestant minister who denounced and mocked the Roman Catholic Church, earning the reputation of a bully. He applied that fiery rhetoric to the political realm, championing the cause of the Protestant unionists, and was elected to the Stormont Parliament in 1970 and shortly thereafter joined the British House of Commons.
He held his seat in the House of Commons for 40 years before stepping down in 2010.
For decades, Paisley lobbied intensely for continuing Northern Ireland's association with Britain, staunchly opposing the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, the 1993 Downing Street Declaration, and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
His hardline stance, however, seemed to soften over the next decade.
In 2007, Paisley accepted a power-sharing agreement with the Catholic Sinn Fein party's Martin McGuinness, with Paisley sworn in as Northern Ireland's first minister and McGuinness as deputy first minister.
"While this is a sad day for all the innocent victims of the Troubles, yet it is a special day because we are making a new beginning," he said of his swearing in. "I believe we are starting on a road to bring us back to peace and prosperity."
Paisley once remarked during a sermon that "If you hear in the press that Ian Paisley is dead, don't believe a word of it. I'll be more alive than ever... I'll be singing as I sang never before."