Ulster Defence Regiment Association members from East Antrim provided a guard of honour at the funeral of Ennis Gilbert in Ballycarry, Co Antrim.
The local man died suddenly at his home on March 14, and the funeral service also saw Magheramorne Silver Band lead the praise.
The band, which Mr Gilbert led on parade for 42 years, also played prior to the commencement of the service at St. John’s Parish Church.
Several hundred people attended the funeral of the well-known and well-liked local man, and tribute was paid to him by Rev. Dr. John Nelson, who led the service.
Rev Nelson said he had known Ennis Gilbert for 36 years since he came to minister in the Old Presbyterian Church in the village, and that it was hard to believe that he had gone so suddenly from their midst.
He noted the role which he had played in the local Community Association as caretaker of the community centre and a dedicated member of the group, and reflected on the great pride he had shown in his role, particularly on the day when Her Royal Highness Princess Anne visited the centre in 2004, and he had stood to attention with military bearing when he was introduced to her.
A past pupil of Ballycarry Primary School and Greenland Secondary School, he was also involved in Ballycarry Boys’ Brigade as a corporal when he was a youth.
Mr Gilbert went to work at Magheramorne Cement Works when he left school, like many young men in the area.
As a young man he was involved with Ballycarry football team, helping on many occasions to line out the pitch at McKee’s Field on the Manse Road.
In his younger days he was also a member of LOL 697 in Ballycarry.
In 1981 he joined the Ulster Defence Regiment and remained in the regiment for nine years when family necessity required him to leave to look after his mother, who was in ill health.
His years in the UDR were not something he talked about, Rev Dr Nelson said, although on one occasion on a trip with Templecorran Historical Society to the Ulster aviation society headquarters at the Maze he mentioned quietly how he had been up in one of the types of helicopter on display many times during his service.
When a young man he joined Magheramorne Silver Band as drum major and his military bearing was always apparent to those who saw the band on parade.
His UDR service medal was always also proudly on display on his uniform. The Rev Nelson said that it was much appreciated by the family that the band had allowed Mr Gilbert to be buried in his uniform, a touching expression of the high esteem in which he was held by his colleagues.
Whenever the summer approached each year the minister said, it was certain that you would find the uniform hanging up in preparation and Ennis Gilbert shining his boots at his home on the village Main Street.
He was no prouder than when he led the band through the village at the Broadisland Gathering festival in years gone by, the congregation was told.
Band members led the praise with the hymns Abide with Me and Onward Christian Soldiers and played Killaloe as the coffin was carried from the church, followed by the standard of the UDR Association.
The mace of the band which was carried on parade by the deceased drum major was laid on the communion table during the service with permission from St John’s Parish Church.
At the graveside members of the UDR Association paid the final tribute, each member casting a poppy onto the coffin and saluting, while a lament was played by piper John Fittis of Major Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band.
Many tributes were paid on social media including from the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra, which had played at the village festival several years ago and whose members had fond memories of Mr. Gilbert.
Former UDR soldier and past Mayor of Larne, Danny O’Connor also paid tribute, as did many others from the local area and as far away as Australia.
One Ballycarry native now living in Portsmouth said simply of him: “A loyal member of the Ballycarry community. He will be sadly missed.”
Magheramorne Silver Band said: “We express our deep regret for our loss but also pride at the opportunity to play a special part in the service for our colleague Ennis.”
Mr Gilbert was the son of the late Samuel and Elsie Gilbert, nee Ritchie, and was predeceased also by his sister Lilian. He is survived by his aunt Isobel and uncle Jim McKinty of Larne and family.
Donations in lieu of flowers were encouraged to Chest, Heart & Stroke Association and funeral arrangements were by EW Ramsey & Son, Larne.
Following the interment, teas were served in the Ballycarry Community Centre, whose flag was at half-mast as was the flag at Magheramorne Old Orange Hall, the home of Magheramorne Silver Band.