How bitter foes Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness became peace process 'Chuckle Brothers'

Few things underlined the potential for enemies to find peace in Northern Ireland than the unlikely double act Martin McGuinness - who has died at the age of 66 - forged with his bitter former foe Ian Paisley.

Along with the handshake Mr McGuinness would go on to extend to the Queen, his alliance with his outspoken rival was hailed for offering hope of a lasting political solution after the Troubles.

Although many could simply not believe quite how well the Catholic nationalist Mr McGuinness would get on with the pro-Britain Protestant Mr Paisley when they were thrust together in 2007.

Martin McGuinness, who laid down his arms to turn peacemaker, fought for Ireland to be reunited. Credit: PA

While Mr McGuinness had played a key leadership role in the IRA paramilitary, Mr Paisley had denounced the Pope as the Antichrist in the European Parliament.

But the Democratic Unionist Party's agreement to share power with the republican party Sinn Fein saw Mr McGuinness serve as deputy to first minister Mr Paisley.

The Reverend Ian Paisley was a figurehead of the pro-British side in the Troubles. Credit: PA

Despite being divided on both religion and statehood, they quickly forged a united front in public.

Images of the pair openly laughing together even saw them coined "the Chuckle Brothers".

The pair were grinning again as they arrived for the opening of an IKEA store in Belfast in 2007. Credit: PA

That bonhomie also caused resentment with memories on both sides of the Troubles still long.

Many in the DUP were said to be unhappy to see Mr Paisley so relaxed with a former IRA commander, meaning his happy union with Mr McGuinness was shortlived.

Mr Paisley said it contributed to him being forced to step down from his role as first minister in June 2008.

The Stormont leaders were laughing again alongside then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown at a reception in 2008. Credit: PA

Yet their friendship continued out of office and away from the cameras.

Mr Paisley's widow Eileen said she received caring text messages from Mr McGuinness during her husband's long illness and up to his death in September 2014.

Responding to Mr Paisley's passing, Mr McGuinness said "the peace process and I have lost a friend".

Martin McGuinness attended the funeral service for the former DUP leader in 2014. Credit: PA

He added: "Despite our differences, I found him to be a charismatic and powerful personality. He always treated me and those who worked with me with respect and courtesy."

Mr McGuinness accepted their friendship had "confounded many".

"Of course, our political differences continued; his allegiance was to Britain and mine to Ireland," he said.

"But we were able to work effectively together in the interests of all our people."

A sign of the lasting fondness between the families came as Mr Paisley's son Kyle was among the first to express his sadness at Mr McGuinness' death.