Thousands line Falls Road for main Easter Rising centenary parade in Belfast
THOUSANDS lined the Falls Road in west Belfast on Sunday as the city marked the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising with a huge turnout for the main National Graves Association parade.
Young and old alike watched on as marchers were led from the republican Garden of Remembrance to Milltown Cemetery by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD.
The parade began shortly after noon with men and women dressed in 1916 uniforms setting off with an Irish wolfhound.
Bands from across Ireland, Britain, Europe and North America interspersed with the marchers, who included children dressed in traditional 1916 Irish Citizens' Army attire.
Camera phones, and even a drone, were employed to capture the historic anniversary.
Some in the crowd went to great lengths to get a good vantage spot for the march, with several people taking photos from the roof of the Rock Bar, while two erstwhile teenagers stood atop a bus stop outside Milltown Cemetery.
Many residents watched proceedings from their front doors and others from parked cars, with tourists from across the globe also present in large numbers.
Several nuns from the Sisters of the Adoration, including former journalist Martina Purdy, mingled with the crowd as the parade passed the convent.
While many minds were focused on matters political, others were using the occasion to share spiritual messages, with Christian evangelists handing out tracts to the crowd entitled "Insurrection or Resurrection?".
At Milltown Cemetery, Belfast musician Gráinne Holland sang Amhrán na bhFiann while Ann Murray recited a decade of the rosary.
The crowd was told that Annie Cahill, wife of veteran republican Joe, was unable to lead the annual rosary due to illness.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD told those present that he recalled attending the 50th anniversary of the Rising in Casement Park and said it was "an honour to come back" and deliver the main speech on the centenary of the Rising.
Mr Adams said: "We come here today with a huge pride. This group of poorly equipped Irish men and women took on the might of the largest empire the world had ever seen."
He said partition had created "two conservative, mean-spirited, narrow-minded states instead of the 32 county republic proclaimed" at Easter 1916.
He told families of dead republicans that "like the men and women of 1916 they went out....to build a new future."
The Sinn Féin leader said: "But there is much yet to be done. Hurts must be healed, divisions ended and the scourge of sectarianism must be tackled.
"While there have been improvements since it was first established the southern state is not the Republic proclaimed in 1916.
Mr Adams added: "Current efforts by the Dublin establishment to pretend that it is are an insult to the men and women of 1916."
The Louth TD also praised the families of 1916 leaders who took the Dublin government to court to prevent the demolition of Moore Street, the last meeting place of the rebel leaders.
Mr Adams said: "It is a metaphor for our times that the families were forced to do this because the state was about protecting a developer who planned to replace the laneways of history with a shopping mall."
The Sinn Féin President also defended the actions of 1916 and attacked the "modern day Redmonites....who pontificate and waffle about how wrong 1916 was."
He said: "There are those who say that honouring the 1916 leaders might retrospectively justify violence.
"But they say nothing critical of John Redmond and Edward Carson's role in sending tens of thousands of young men to fight Germans, Austrians and Turks - with whom they and Ireland had no quarrel. 38 million people were killed in that imperial adventure. Were John Redmond and Edward Carson not 'men of violence'?"
"Sinn Féin is crystal clear on this. 1916 was right."
Mr Adams added:"When the centenary has come and gone there should be more left behind than a memory of a good day out."