Willie John McBride: ‘He was one of the great men of this world and I am proud I had him as a friend’

Kyle’s close friend, Reverend Colin Morris, who ministered in the Zambian town where the surgeon lived for three decades, spoke of his principled stand on racial issues. He revealed that he refused to associate himself with all-white sports clubs in the post-colonial country despite numerous requests for the endorsement of the famous rugby player.

“He said he had no intention of having any association with any sports organisation that practiced segregation,” he told the congregation.

Rev Morris, who also paid tribute to Kyle’s late wife Shirley, added: “They said he had genius and I am quite prepared to believe it but he had something rarer than that, he had goodness.”

Earlier, Rev David Lapsley described him as a “great and good man” who had “dedicated his life to healing the wounds of Africa. ”

After Kyle’s daughter Justine read from scripture, his son Caleb thanked all those who had sent messages of condolences in the days since his father’s death.

“Over the last few days we feel we have been cradled in the arms of the people of Ireland and beyond,” he said. “From that we have drawn immeasurable strength.”

When his rugby career was finished, Kyle worked as a surgeon in Indonesia and Sumatra before finally settling in Zambia where he would stay for 34 years.

His work in Africa was recognized with an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University in 1991, and a lifetime achievement award by the Irish Journal of Medical Science and the Royal Academy of Medicine of Ireland.

He returned to Belfast in 2000 and was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in 2006.

The poems read during the funeral service included Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crost the bar.