Iain Paisley, the Protestant preacher, Unionist and former first minister of Northern Ireland, has died aged 88.

His widow Eileen confirmed Paisley, whose name was synonymous with the privince's Troubles and hardline sectarianism, died on Friday morning.

Paisley, the founder of the Democratic Unionist Party, was one of Northern Ireland's most polarising politicians in his long  political career.

He opposed reconciliation with Republicans for decades, until a change of heart when he became first minister in 2007 and led a unity government between Protestants and Catholics.

"Dr No", as he was widely known, finally said yes, and his decision cemented a peace process he had done so much to frustrate.

From the conflict in Northern Ireland's earliest days, Paisley had prophesied damnation for any Protestant politician or church leader who dared build bridges with the Catholic Church and Republicans.

As a figurehead for hardline Unionism, he opposed any concession to the mainly Catholic Republican community's desire for closer ties with the Ireland.

In the 1990s, he objected to talks with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, which led to the power-sharing Good Friday Agreement which came into effect in 1999.

Sweet surrender

His opposition to talks and and his mantra of "no surrender" to the IRA were at odds with his appointment as first minister in 2007.

But once in office, he forged an unlikely friendship with his deputy Martin McGuinness, a senior Sinn Fein figure and a former member of the IRA.

"I think we confounded the world by him, a pro-British, pro-Unionist politician, being able to work in a positive spirit with myself, an Irish Republican," McGuinness told the Irish national broadcaster RTE.

"A friendship grew out of that, and it's a friendship that lasted to this very day."

Yet at Paisley's insistence, they never shook hands. McGuinness said he understood and did not push the issue.

Paisley stepped down as leader of the government and his party in 2008, retired as a British MP in 2010 and from Northern Ireland's assembly in 2011.

The British government elevated him to the upper House of Lords, giving him the title Lord Bannside, a reference to the river that divides Northern Ireland.

He is survived by his wife, three daughters, two sons and many grandchildren.

Source: Agencies