Northern Ireland news

Republican guard of honour for Billy McKee ahead of funeral

The remains of veteran republican Billy McKee are brought to St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
Connla Young

REPUBLICANS formed a guard of honour for Provisional IRA founder Billy McKee as his remains were removed to St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast last night.

The 97-year-old's tricolour-draped coffin was carried the short distance from a relative's home to the church before 6pm.

The veteran republican died in the early hours of Tuesday at a west Belfast nursing home after a short illness.

During the procession eight men wearing black jackets bearing the logo ‘D Coy' - believed to be a reference to 'D Company Ex Prisoners' Association' - flanked his coffin.

The group holds an annual Easter commemoration in west Belfast and maintains the republican garden of remembrance on the Falls Road, which remembers former members of the IRA's 'D Company' based in the area.

On arrival at St Peter's, the flag was removed and folded before the coffin was shouldered into the church by members of the guard of honour.

A short service was then held before mourners dispersed.

Dozens of black flags were put up in the Falls Road area ahead of Mr McKee's Requiem Mass and burial today.

It is expected that his funeral will be one of the largest seen in the west of the city in recent years.

After Mass his remains are expected to be taken along the Falls Road to the garden of remembrance where a short ceremony will be held.

The cortege will then move to Milltown Cemetery where a graveside oration will be delivered.

Mr McKee is then expected to be laid to rest in his family's burial plot.

Police Land Rovers fitted with CCTV cameras tracked the cortege as it made its way to St Peter's yesterday, while a helicopter circled overhead.

During Mr McKee's wake the PSNI also maintained a visible presence in the area.

Mr McKee was a founding member the Provisional IRA and was the organisation's first ‘officer commanding' in Belfast and sat on its ‘army council' before being sidelined in the late 1970s.

Born months after partition in 1921, he had been an active republican since the 1930s.

He joined the IRA's youth wing, Na Fianna hÉireann, in 1936 at the age of 15 and was imprisoned in every decade between the 1930s and the 1970s.

Until his death this week he is believed to have been oldest surviving internee in Ireland.

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