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Wicker casket as painter McWilliams laid to rest

The funeral of Joe McWilliams leaving St Therese of Lisieux Church on the Somerton Road in north Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

PAINTER Joe McWilliams was carried in a wicker casket into a church overflowing with mourners who had travelled to pay their last respects.

The artistic world came together with that of broadcasting and lifelong neighbours from north Belfast at St Therese of Lisieux Church on Somerton Road.

McWilliams grew up in nearby New Lodge, one of six children of parents Nora and Patrick - only his old brother Arthur still survives.

A man of deep and enduring faith, he "asked for and received the last rites" before he died following a difficult illness.

Among those at the funeral were playwright Bernard MacLaverty, poet Michael Longley and his academic wife Edna Longley.

Cartoonist Ian Knox, photographer Brendan Murphy, artist Brian Ballard, Ulster Orchestra chairman Sir George Bain and poet Paul Yates also paid their respects.

The environmentally-friendly coffin was chosen by his wife Catherine, who was supported by daughter Jane and son Simon and their families during the moving service.

Fr Paul Morely said although he had been "a painter, teacher and friend", he was first and foremost "a loved and loving husband and father".

"Family was the centre of Joe's life and the centre of their lives. It is a strong, united family. He was so proud of his children and grandchildren."

The priest said Catherine had told him: "He suffered a lot. Now he's in a place where there's no pain and suffering."

He and his wife moved to Old Cavehill Road where they opened a gallery at their home in 1986 that "is a platform for young painters and sculptors". His son, Simon, is also an artist.

"His paintings will be an enduring legacy for all of those who appreciate art," Fr Morely said.

McWilliams, a past president of the Royal Ulster Academy, was a regular contributor on visual arts to the BBC and his speaking engagements took him as far afield as Boston.

"Joe was more than a painter, he was a polymath, among many roles his great passion was opera, but he was also a gardener, columnist and not a bad poker players," the priest said to laughter from the congregation.

He recalled that the painter had "travelled a lot (and) had a particular affection for Italy, but nowhere was as dear to his heart as the Glens and he many many friends and gave a friendship that was lifelong".

Fr Morely said his "generosity in friendship" was manifest in "this big congregation".

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