Funeral of Seamus Mallon to take place in Co Armagh
MOURNERS from all corners of Ireland and beyond are expected to descend on the Co Armagh townland of Mullaghbrack this morning to pay their final respects to former deputy first minister Seamus Mallon.
Requiem Mass for the former SDLP deputy leader, who died on Friday aged 83 at his home in Markethill, will be celebrated at 12 noon in Saint James of Jerusalem Church, followed by burial in the adjoining cemetery.
Mr Mallon is widely credited for playing a key role in the peace process which led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement along with then party leader John Hume.
A former teacher, GAA player, civil rights campaigner and later elected representative, Mr Mallon held the distinction of having represented the people of his home village of Markethill as a councillor, MLA and MP, as well as serving in the Republic's upper house, the Seanad.
Although the numbers expected to travel to pay tribute to Mr Mallon could well have filled a larger church - such as Armagh Cathedral - it is understood that it was Mr Mallon's wish to be buried in his home parish, where his wife Gertrude was laid to rest in October 2016.
The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, will be the chief celebrant, alongside parish priest Fr Michael Woods.
The Executive Office confirmed last night that first minister Arlene Foster and deputy first minister, Michelle O'Neill, will both attend today's funeral.
Just weeks after they agreed to restore power-sharing at Stormont, the pair will come together to remember the man who spearheaded efforts to create those very institutions in even more precarious and testing circumstances over two decades ago.
It is understood that the Assembly will sit briefly before being suspended until late afternoon, when MLAs will have an opportunity to pay their own tributes to Mr Mallon and sign a book of condolence.
The Irish and British governments are both expected to be represented, while Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will travel to Mullaghbrack.
The funeral will be screened live to viewers on the RTÉ's News Now service.
The PSNI has advised people to expect traffic disruption from 9.30am until 3pm, with restrictions in place along a stretch of the Mullaghbrack Road, from Gosford Road to Mullurg Road.
It has urged anyone attending to arriving early and to approach the church from the Markethill side.