Frank Carson Dead: Comic's Funeral Held In Belfast (PICTURES)

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Family and friends gathered for Frank Carson's funeral mass at St Patrick's Catholic Church in Belfast
Family and friends gathered for Frank Carson's funeral mass at St Patrick's Catholic Church in Belfast

Hundreds of people lined the streets today to pay tribute to "prime minister of fun" Frank Carson at his funeral Mass in Belfast.

Family and friends of the comic, 85, famed for one-liners including "it's a cracker" and beloved to millions who saw him on television packed St Patrick's Catholic Church for the service in the same building where he was married 62 years ago.

Wife Ruth and his three children led mourners from around the world.

Bishop Edward Daly told them: "Frank made millions of people smile and laugh. He brightened up their lives. He was a prime minister of fun. That was his mission in life."

Television presenter Eamonn Holmes said he was at the funeral as a family friend and neighbour from the earliest years.

"He is one of the most famous sons of Ulster, that sums up what he means to everybody in Northern Ireland," he said.

Comedian Stan Boardman and snooker player Dennis Taylor were among mourners.

Dana, former Irish MEP, comedian Roy Walker and boxer Barry McGuigan were also present.

Boardman said: "Frank was a nice man, whenever he went into the room, even before he came into the room, he was approachable, he would go over and talk to people.

"He was a sort of uncle, everybody used to call him Uncle Frank.

"He did not offend anybody, his gags were brilliant and he was a funny man."

Taylor remembered a flight to Bangkok with Carson and Boardman for charity work.

"Sitting on a flight for 14 hours between Stan Boardman and Frank Carson, that is an experience I will never forget," he said.

The road outside the working-class district where Carson was brought up was closed as the cortege proceeded slowly to the church.

Close family pulled up first, faces drawn, and proceeded solemnly into the church, the children carrying flowers.

Then followed the hearse, white flowers bearing the message GAGA.

The coffin was carried in with green flowers on top.

The church featured a large photo of the comic.

Onlookers gathered in their droves outside and the church, which holds 1,200, was packed.

Carrying symbols of the Knight of St Gregory were his daughter Majella and two granddaughters. These included a sword, medal and hat. The honour was bestowed on Carson by the Pope in recognition of his charity work.

His son Tony did a reading.

Bishop Daly, who met Carson when he was a curate priest in Londonderry in the 1960s and signed him as resident comedian in the church theatre, paid tribute to his late friend.

He said he was extraordinarily generous to charity as well as compassionate, talking to the retired Bishop of Derry about colleagues in poor health.

"He had a paternal care for friends and colleagues, especially those in difficulties," he said.

He spoke of the thick skin required by Ruth and the family.

"He loved acting the rascal. He loved being brash and very loud and naughty and mischievous at times.

"It was just the way he was and he was all the more loveable for it."

When Bishop Daly was appointed, Carson congratulated him on reaching the "top of the bill".

He also thought about his own mortality.

Bishop Daly added: "He did not fear death, he was just so sad at parting with Ruth and his family and many friends and frustrated that he was no longer able to get up and go and get about his normal hectic round of life and gigs.

"He had no need to fear death, he had a long life, he loved and enjoyed his life.

"He lived that life to the full and lived it well and generously and he was like a ray of sunshine in a sometimes dark world."

The cleric said it had been a great journey from Little Italy in Belfast to being a household name.

"Whilst he travelled and performed far and wide, Frank never really left Belfast, he was always Belfast. And his earthly remains will rest here in this city with which he will always be associated."

Bishop Daly led mourners from the church. The coffin was carried out to the claps of onlookers to the refrain of "it's a cracker", with a recording of Frank singing with some schoolchildren.

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was among those who comforted family as they stood by the side of the road at the head of a crowd of many hundred.

A bell tolled overhead.

Wife Ruth, a diminutive figure in a long black coat with matching hat, talked to Bishop Daly as she, other family members and well-wishers followed the coffin down Donegall Street, carried for a short way then transferred to the hearse.

Crowds shuffled alongside, eager to pay their respects and shops closed while the area was clear of vehicles. Many people had cameras, others recorded the moment on their mobiles.

The sound of a helicopter could be heard in the distance, people talked softly but the area was free from the usual sound of traffic.

Carson, who was a great supporter of integrated education in Northern Ireland where Catholics are educated separately from Protestants, was taken to St Anne's Anglican Cathedral a few yards from St Patrick's for a tribute and prayer from Dean the Rev John Mann, read as the cortege paused on the road outside the Cathedral. It was a powerful symbol of the comic's dedication to cross-community relations and prompted more applause.

The dean said: "We are thankful for Frank's humour, for the happiness he spread, for embracing this Cathedral in his concern and for at all times expressing those great qualities of hope and love through word and action, that transcend division and bring people together in common endeavour."

The cortege toured Belfast city centre before making its way to Milltown cemetery, where Carson's son read a eulogy before burial.

The dean gave words of comfort to Ruth and family as they stood at the roadside in early spring sunshine.
Carson, a former member of the Parachute Regiment and plasterer, was known for his part in talent show Opportunity Knocks as well as The Comedians and Tiswas.

He toured Ireland, the UK and abroad and appeared at the Variety Club's celebration of the Duke of Edinburgh's 90th birthday in December after undergoing an operation for stomach cancer last year.

His family recalled: "He did not beat the illness but he had several months after his operation laughing and joking."

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