Sir Anthony Hart was a “safe pair of hands” for lives damaged by abuse, his funeral has heard.
Warm tributes have been paid to the former High Court judge who went on to lead an independent inquiry into historical institutional abuse.
Sir Anthony died suddenly last week aged 73 after suffering a heart attack.
Survivors of abuse, including prominent campaigners Margaret McGuckian, Kate Walmsley and Jon McCourt, as well as senior members of the legal profession were among those who attended Sir Anthony’s funeral at St Mark’s Church in east Belfast on Wednesday.
The Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry, which Sir Anthony led, exposed serious sexual, physical and emotional abuse over decades at children’s homes run by religious orders, charities and the state.
Its recommendations, which remain unfulfilled, included compensation payments to abuse survivors, a public apology and the creation of a permanent memorial at Stormont.
Paying tribute to Sir Anthony during the funeral service, Bishop of Clogher the Rev John McDowell said many felt a “high providence” had guided him to chairing the inquiry.
“His work on the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry was a prodigy of organisational skill, forensic ability and, indispensably, of human sympathy which I think in some ways – small and not so small – helped towards healing the manifestly inhuman treatment that was so painfully recounted in that inquiry room day by day,” Rev McDowell told the funeral.
“When Tony Hart was asked to chair that inquiry, those of us who are believers knew that a higher providence has taken a hand and that those damaged lives were for now at least in safe hands.”
Rev McDowell also recalled Sir Anthony’s childhood in Co Fermanagh, where he attended the former Royal Portora Grammar School in Enniskillen before going on to read law at Trinity College, Dublin.
He described Sir Anthony as the son of a country vet who made himself available to those who needed him, including bishops who sought his counsel, adding he had “beautiful manners” and was a “Christian gentleman”.
The funeral also heard rowing had been Sir Anthony’s passion, and he supported the boats of his former school – which later became the Enniskillen Royal Grammar School – throughout his life.
Rev McDowell said: “The look of pride on his face when he had an eight named after him was deeply moving. It was as though he had been given all the riches of Arabia.
“If you wanted to see Tony in his natural habitat and in the fullness of his natural personality, then all you had to do was to watch him at the Erne Head as a Portora or an Enniskillen Royal Grammar School (ERGS) boat pulled away of a Coleraine Inst eight.
“There is a sort of tragic completeness that it was after watching the ERGS crews once again victorious at Henley Regatta, and after entertaining them with his usual generosity and fun, that Tony fell so seriously ill.
“Much too soon, but with the laughter and the love of friends still ringing in his ears.”
Sir Anthony is survived by his widow Lady Mary, described by Rev McDowell as the love of his life, and their four children Patrick, Fiona, Katherine and David – who the funeral heard regard their father as their hero.
He will be laid to rest at Devenish Parish Churchyard in Co Fermanagh on Thursday.