Ian Paisley’s widow, Eileen, has revealed that Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness was very supportive to the family during the former Democratic Unionist Party leader’s long illness and said their friendship meant a great deal to her husband.

Speaking at an event in Belfast earlier this week, Eileen Paisley said Northern Ireland’s First Minister was constantly in touch despite the fact that the pair were political enemies. They did, however, share power and a political partnership during the Northern Irish peace process.

In 2007 the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) agreed to share power with republican party Sinn Féin and consent to all-Ireland governance in certain matters. Paisley and McGuinness became First Minister and Deputy First Minister, respectively, in May 2007.

From 2012 onwards the former DUP leader suffered from heart problems. He passed away in 2014.

Eileen Paisley said Northern Ireland’s First Minister was constantly in touch with the family during Dr Paisley’s long illness.

“During Ian’s illness, he [Martin] contacted me.

"He would have texted me just to ask how Ian was, and say he was thinking about him," Paisley said

“It was very precious to us as a family. It gave Ian a lot of happiness as well to know that he had left that impression with [him].

“His friendship with Martin McGuinness had meant something very special to him.”

Following the death of Rev Paisley, in 2014, McGuinness released a statement expressing his condolences. He said, “Over a number of decades we were political opponents and held very different views on many, many issues, but the one thing we were absolutely united on was the principle that our people were better able to govern themselves than any British government.”

He continued, “In the brief period that we worked together in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister I developed a close working relationship with him which developed into a friendship, which despite our many differences lasted beyond his term in office.”

Ian Paisley’s wife, Eileen, was speaking at the public opening of a new library bearing Ian Paisley’s House of Lords title, Lord Bannside. Paisley’s own personal collection of books will be housed in the library. This was planned by Ian Paisley before his death.

His wife said, “I would like to see it bringing people of all kinds together, and see people enjoying it, and making use of it because books aren’t a decoration.

“These books were Ian’s friends and he knew them. He had a very eclectic taste in his books and he also was very generous with them. He read them, he knew them.”

Ian Paisley collected books on Catholicism and Irish history among other topics.

The library, run by Bannside Library Limited, has three of the late Reverend’s children as directors - North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jr, Rev Kyle Paisley and Sharon Huddleston.

In 2012 Ian Paisley spoke at the library. He said, “I’m putting all my books into it and hundreds more that people have sent in.

“I’m really looking forward to that – we’ve got nice premises on the Upper Newtownards Road and it’s going to be very, very good.

“It’s not a taking library, but people will be able to come in, sit down and get a book and if they want part copied, then they can do that. We have thousands of books.”

Read more: Top ten Ian Paisley quotes

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, and First Minister, the Rev Ian Paisley, at the press conference at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.Photocall