Seamus Mallon's contribution to Irish politics in the dark days of the Troubles made him equal to the legendary Daniel O'Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell, mourners at his funeral were told.
In a moving farewell appreciation, his friend, diplomat Tim O'Connor, said Ireland was "blessed at a time of such bleakness and darkness that such a giant of a man like Seamus Mallon rose up among us and showed us the way".
Mr O'Connor said Mr Mallon, alongside John Hume, played a pivotal role in all the key developments in building peace in the North.
Mr O'Connor added that his almost 20 years as an MP in the British House of Commons ranked him alongside O'Connell and Parnell for his oratory and leadership.
He described Mr Mallon as "a voice for tolerance and decency" and he noted his love of his home place, his family and friends.
Throughout the funeral the long and eventful life of Mr Mallon - the North's civil rights campaigner and peacemaker - was celebrated in his home parish of Mullaghbrack, in Co Armagh, yesterday.
Hundreds of old friends and neighbours mingled with political leaders and international diplomats who came to honour the former Northern Ireland deputy first minister and stalwart of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).
The funeral congregation thronged the tiny church of St James of Jerusalem at Mullaghbrack, close to the school where he and his father had taught.
Mourners were also accommodated in a marquee and in the adjoining parish hall.
After mass concelebrated by Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Eamon Martin, and local parish priest, Fr Michael Woods, Mr Mallon was laid to rest in the adjoining churchyard.
Mr Mallon (83) died last Friday after a short illness.
He is survived by his daughter Orla, his son-in-law Mark, his granddaughter Lara, his sisters Maura, Jean and Kate, his brother-in-law Joe, and his nieces and nephews and their families.
Mr Mallon's wife, Gertrude, suffered dementia in her final years and he cared for her at home until her death in 2016.
The local GAA club provided a guard of honour and many local people spoke warmly about his commitment to the locality.
Fr Woods said for his neighbours and friends this funeral was "a proud homecoming".
In his homily, Dr Martin noted the many tributes paid to Mr Mallon, and stressed his love of his family, friends and home locality in the much-beloved county of Armagh.
The Archbishop said he found one passage from Mr Mallon's recent memoir, A Shared Home Place, particularly moving: "I am haunted by the places that have been violated; too many places violated in my parish, my county, my country, violated by murder and massacre, places I used to know and love as I passed by them on my boyhood bicycle."
For Dr Martin this summed up Mr Mallon's utter abhorrence of all violence and injustice.
The official attendance included the leaders of the North's newly restored government in Belfast, Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party and Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Fein.
President Michael D Higgins was represented by his aide de camp and Queen Elizabeth by the deputy lieutenant of Armagh.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tanaiste Simon Coveney and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin attended, as did former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, former SDLP leader Mark Durkan and current leader Colum Eastwood.