Thousands brave rain in west Belfast as city marks anniversary of Easter Rising
THOUSANDS gathered in west Belfast yesterday as the city marked the anniversary of the Easter Rising with the main National Graves Association parade to Milltown Cemetery.
The crowd was noticeably smaller than for last year's centenary, but the cold and rain did not deter marchers nor families who lined the Falls Road to watch the parade.
Setting off from Beechmount Avenue, the 101st anniversary parade made its way along the Falls Road to the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery.
Men and women dressed in 1916 uniforms led the parade, accompanied by an Irish wolfhound.
Donna Dougall, a Belfast woman who is a great-granddaughter of Rising leader James Connolly, was among the participants in the main parade.
Sean Kelly, the only man convicted of the 1993 Shankill bomb, also joined the march.
At Milltown Cemetery, Amhrán na bhFiann and the Last Post was played while Annie Cahill, wife of veteran republican Joe, returned after absence last year due to illness to recite a decade of the rosary in Irish.
The Proclamation was read before wreaths were laid, including one on behalf of the Antrim GAA County Board.
Sinn Féin Donegal TD Pearse Doherty told those present that Irish unity "is now very much on the agenda" and said that the Dublin government "need to recognise that the people of the north are as much as part of the Irish nation as Kerry and Donegal".
Mr Doherty re-iterated the party's call for designated special status for the north within the European Union following Brexit.
He said: "Meanwhile, the Irish government is doing what Irish governments do best, they are standing idly by and watching from the sidelines, clinging to the pretence that it has a special relationship with their British counterparts."
On the breakdown of the political talks at Stormont, Mr Doherty added: "The Irish government therefore needs to stand over its role as co-equal guarantors, instead of sitting back as the British government refuses to honour its commitments."
Referring to the Assembly election and the Brexit referendum, Mr Doherty said that "the perpetual unionist majority has ended, while the world is in a state of flux".
The Donegal TD said: "In Belfast, a city once considered to be the capital of a unionist state created for a unionist people, there are now more MLAs from a nationalist background elected than unionist.
"Unification cannot be about simply joining two parts of Ireland together. It must be more than repainting the post boxes. It must be an opportunity to build anew.
"Nor is it a place for the sectarianism and disrespect of some elements of unionism."
Mr Doherty added: "That means that the British identity, which is held by a sizeable swathe of our people, too must be protected and respected in a unified Ireland."