3 April 1997 Edition
Largest Easter turnout for many years
Upbeat mood among republicans in advance of historic elections
The newly-formed Cumann na Meirleach Pipe Band had the honour this year of leading the Easter commemoration parade in Belfast, where some 10,000 people turned out for the march to the republican plot in Milltown cemetery. Many participants described it as the biggest Easter turnout in Belfast for years, despite the loyalist bomb outside Sinn Fein's New Lodge offices.
The large numbers of families lining the route lent an upbeat mood to the procession and the feeling of the marchers was that the turnout had great significance for Sinn Féin's electoral prospects, and was a mark of the resolve of the republican community generally.
One man said: ``I think since the cessation there is a momentum created about the process. There is a bouyant mood and it represents itself on the streets. People know we have the right politics, we are going forward. Look at the children. That's all their futures as well. Look at their parents, happy to see it. We are on the way up.''
Gerry Adams addressed the crowds. He hailed Belfast republican activists for their tradition of commitment and sacrifice, and saluted the courage of those communities identified with resisting Orange marches and sectarianism, whilst urging dialogue.
He welcomed the elections as a challenge to a united nationalist population in the city. ``For the first time with Twinbrook and Poleglass as part of West Belfast we enter these elections as the largest party in our city. Let us together ensure that we emerge the far side of these elections stronger, more determined and more confident in our ability to achieve the goals which Irish republicans have struggled to achieve for generations.''
Adams had this message for any incoming British administration: ``The Sinn Féin leadership is strong, united and committed to our goals. The elections do create a new opportunity to reconstruct the peace process. But that cannot be accomplished without Irish republican involvement. Sinn Féin is an essential key component of any lasting peace settlement.''
IRA Volunteers walking freely along the Berwick Road in Ardoyne on Easter Tuesday held the attention of the press gathered outside the commemoration garden beside the Sinn Fein office in Brompton Park, but it was Tyrone Sinn Féin councillor Francie Molloy's words which put their presence into perspective.
``I think it is fitting that we had today the presence of the Irish Republican Army here on our streets, the defenders of our people for the last 30 years.'' Molloy criticised the British government for their abject failure to engage in inclusive talks.
``We can go down the road to negotiation and settlement, or the British can take us down the road to conflict, the options are there for the British, either peace or conflict''.
The applause of over 2,000 people a fitting end to one of the largest turnouts from Ardoyne, the Bone and Ligoniel for many a year.
•''We are in the end game,'' said leading Republican Gerry Kelly speaking in his North Belfast constituency on Easter Monday, a statement which drew loud applause from people of the New Lodge Road.
Kelly, who was 87 votes short of topping the poll in last year's election, was given a massive cheer when he stepped up to the platform beside the area's commemoration garden which lists the 120 local people who have died as a result of Britain's conflict in Ireland.
Speaking to a 1,000 strong crowd Kelly said Sinn Féin was prepared ``to do business, now, with the British government.''
``When a meaningful and inclusive process of negotiations is genuinely being offered the Sinn Fein leadership could, with credibility, seek to persuade the IRA to restore the IRA cessation of 1994,'' he said.
Prior to the oration a lament was played by local musician Terry O'Neill as the names of the dead was read out by the sister of one of the victims, Marion Sloan.
•Earlier the people of Newington assembled at the area's memorial plaque at Atlantic Avenue, a tribute to over 50 people who died at the hands of loyalist death squads and other British forces. Gerry Kelly was the main speaker alongside local councillor Bobby Lavery who was to later present Kathleen McGrillen and Teresa McIvor with a bouquet of flowers as a mark of both womens' strength and commitment to the Republican cause for over 30 years.
Three bands and 300 people took part in the County Cavan commemoration in Cavan town on Easter Monday. The ceremony at the republican memorial in the grounds of the courthouse was chaired by Cavan Sinn Féin comhairle ceantair chairperson Paddy McDonald. The main speaker was Councillor Caoimhghin O Caoláin, Cavan-Monaghan Sinn Féin candidate in the forthcoming Leinster House election. He issued a rallying call to all republicans and nationalists in County Cavan to make the election an historic one. ``Sinn Féin alone has offered redemption of the past failures of nationalist politics on this island,'' he said. He pointed out that the momentum created by the peace process is irreversible and the ``inevitability of change sends a cold shiver up the spine of those who have sought to destroy us''.
Wreath-laying ceremonies were held at traditional venues throughout County Cavan on Easter Sunday morning.
Cork city had its largest Easter commemoration in over ten years. A thousand people joined three bands, the Strabane Martyrs, the James Connoly from Glasgow and the Ahern/Crowley from Cork in marching to the republican plot in St Finbarr's cemetery. The main oration was given by Barry McElduff from Tyrone. He served notice on the British government that there was no going back and that their days of oppression in Ireland were numbered.
The commemoration in Youghal was addressed by Sinn Féin's East Cork candidate, Councillor Kieran McCarthy.
``Sinn Fein will enter peace talks and finish the political task of the IRA's dead,'' said the party's national chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin at the Easter Commemoration in Derry City on Sunday.
Attended by a large crowd the parade moved off from the Bogside and made its way to the Republican Plot in the city cemetery.
McLaughlin told the crowd that in both elections coming up in May a good vote for Sinn Fein could change the ``political landscape forever. A strong vote would put untold pressure on the British government to engage in a credible negotiations process''.
Two thousand republicans took part in the Donegal commemoration in Drumboe. Proceedings were chaired by Liam McElhinney and the main oration was given by Sinn Féin's Director of Publicity, Rita O'Hare.
One thousand people took part in the commemoration in Dundalk which was chaired by Sinn Féin election candidate Owen Hanratty. The main oration was given by Clones Sinn Féin Councillor Pat Treanor.
An increased attendance and a large number of young people took part in the main Dublin Easter commemoration from the historic GPO to Glasnevin Cemetery.
Before the parade the crowd at the GPO heard music, poetry from Máiréad Medbh, James Connolly's statement to his courtmartial read by Jer O'Leary and the Proclamation read in Irish and English by Lucilita Og Breatnach and Martina Kenna. Sinn Féin Councillor Christy Burke then called on the crowd of over 1000 people to fall in behind the Smyth/Harford/Doherty Band for the parade to Glasnevin. Along the route posters commemorated those who gave their lives in the freedom struggle.
At the grave of 17 rank and file Volunteers and Citizen Army members killed in the Rising, the main speaker was Gerry Kelly, former political prisoner, hunger-striker, escapee and Sinn Féin candidate for North Belfast in the forthcoming Westminster election. Praising the resilience of republican activists in the 26 Counties and Dublin in particular he stressed the importance of the imminent Leinster House elections in advancing the republican cause.
Commemorations were also held in Crumlin on Saturday where the speaker was Bairbre de Brún from Belfast and in Dún Laoghaire on Monday where Dublin North East Sinn Féin candidate Larry O'Toole was the speaker.
This year's Fermanagh commemoration was held on Easter Sunday in Donagh at the graveside of Volunteer Louis Leonard.
The proceedings were chaired by Sean Lynch, a republican prisoner on weekend parole from Long Kesh. He told the 1000 strong crowd that ``Republicans want peace because they know the price of war. The British want war because they know the price of peace.''
The main address was given by Sinn Féin's candidate for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Gerry McHugh. In his address he said, `In spite of the attempts by the British government and the Unionists to crush the hope created by the prospect of peace, we remain committed to our strategy. It was not strategy for peace that failed but the vehicle that carried it. We have set about restarting that vehicle.''
Leitrim's commemoration took place in Mohill at the grave of Volunteer Joe Beirne who was killed at Selton Hill in 1921.
In his address to the 250 republicans gathered there, Sinn Féin's Sligo/Leitrim candidate, Alderman Sean MacManus paid tribute to the memory of the departed patriots and the role they had played in shaping Ireland's future. Speaking about the forthcoming election, MacManus said that the opportunity exists to dramatically increase Sinn Féin's vote in Sligo/Leitrim.
Despite a heavy and aggressive presence of uniformed Gardai and Special Branch, the Limerick City Easter Parade passed off without incident. The parade was led by a lone piper and colour party. The commemoration was chaired by Padraig Malone and veteran republican Mick Morrisey laid a wreath on behalf of the republican movement.
Belfast Sinn Féin councillor Alex Maskey gave the main oration. ``We salute those who have been martyred, we take our mandate, principles and objectives from the Proclamation of 1916 and we today have the responsibility to translate the sentiment of the proclamation into a reality, a reality which befits their sacrifice,'' he told the hundred-strong gathering.
The Loup, County Derry
Hundreds of republicans from counties Derry and Antrim enjoyed pleasant spring sunshine as they assembled at Ballyronan Road for the colourful Easter commemoration at the Loup. Sinn Fein's mid-Ulster candidate Martin McGuinness was the main speaker. The parade which made its way to the grave of Brigadier Sean Larkin was led by the Volunteer Tom Williams Flute Band from Glasgow and the South Derry Martyrs Flute band.
Earlier in the day wreath-laying ceremonies were held in Bellaghy, Lavey, Newbridge, Coolcalm, Dungiven, Glen, Cargin, Loughguile, Rasharkin and Dunloy.
Sinn Féin's National Chairperson, Mitchel McLaughlin addressed the annual Easter Monday Commemoration at Swatragh. The well attended Swatragh parade assembled at The Diamond before making its way to Granaghan Churchyard for a wreath-laying ceremony at the graves of Volunteers James Bradley and Danny McMullan and Sinn Fein Councillor Bernard O'Hagan. The parade was accompanied by bands from South Derry, Belfast and Scotland.
Speaking at the Loughshore Easter Commemoration in Tyrone on Easter Monday, Martin McGuinness said he was ``convinced'' there would be another IRA ceasefire if a genuine process of negotiations was ``guaranteed''.
McGuinness also described the May Westminster poll as the most important election to be fought in the North of Ireland since partition.
He predicted that if nationalists voted tactically, Sinn Fein would have an excellent opportunity to have four MPs elected in West Belfast, North Belfast, West Tyrone and Mid-Ulster.
According to McGuinness, if Sinn Fein were to win these seats, this would, ``reverberate around the world and would put tremendous pressure on the incoming British government to move decisively towards real and fully inclusive negotiations''.
Launching a scathing attack on John Major McGuinness referred to the British Prime Minster as a ``unionist wolf in sheep's clothing''.
He endorsed last week's comments by the deputy leader of the British Labour Party, John Prescott, who said that John Major ``was the person responsible for the destruction of the peace process through his sordid little deals with the unionists''. Responding to weekend comments by the Labour Party's Mo Mowlam that if the IRA calls an immediate ceasefire, Sinn Fein could be in talks by June, McGuinness said, ``I am convinced that if Tony Blair - now almost certainly the next British Prime Minister - is prepared to display the courage required to rebuild a new, vibrant and meaningful peace process, then we can, all of us, working together, create a dynamic opportunity to bring to an end all the injustice and conflict and put in place a comprehensive, just and deeply rooted peace settlement.
``I think the next logical step for the British Labour leadership is to authorise face to face meetings between its representatives and Sinn Fein. There are many issues to be discussed. That initiative should not wait until after the election. It should happen now.''
The Mayo commemoration took place on Achill island on Easter Sunday. The main speaker was Sinn Féin General Secretary Lucilita Breathnach. `Sinn Féin will face a new British government with a strengthened mandate,'' she said. ``Sinn Féin ullamh a ról a imirt arís agus luionn freagarthactaí le cinnireacht is le rialtaisí. Tá an freagarthacht seo ar gach páirti polaitiúil ag seasamh ins na toghcháin thuaifh is theas.''
``I look forward to serving this constituency as its first participatory republican TD since the imposition of partition.'' This was the confident pledge of Caoimhghin O Caoláin, Sinn Féin candidate in Cavan/Monaghan, who was the main speaker at the Monaghan commemoration on Easter Sunday. More than 600 people took part in the parade along with two visiting bands, the Volunteer Kevin Lynch from Dungiven and the Volunteer Kieran Doherty, Sons of Ireland from Glasgow. The ceremony was held at Latlurcan Cemetery.
O Caoláin said that ``our success in this constituency will have a profound impact throughout the length and breadth of the island and internationally. We are on the threshold of a new and exciting challenge. We are up to that challenge.''
Earlier on Sunday morning wreath-laying ceremonies were held at Annyalla, Castleblayney, Rafeeragh, Rockcorry, Corcaghan and local commemorations at Clones, Clara, Carrickroe, Clontibret, Tyholland and Urbleshanny.
Several thousand people took part in the commemoration in Newry. The main oration was given by Pat McNamee, Sinn Féin's candidate in the Newry/Armagh constituency. Speaking about the peace process, he said, ``However frustrated and disappointed we feel by the British response, we must remain committed to our analysis and our strategy for a solution to the conflict on this island. We firmly believe that a just peace can only come about through inclusive negotiation involving all the particpants and we will continue to work towards that end.''
This year's Easter commemoration in Portadown was attended by more than 300 people who paraded along the Garvaghy Road to the grave of Volunteer Julie Duggan on Saturday 29 March. The graveside ceremony was chaired by Belfast republican Martin Meehan, and Sinn Féin's Upper Bann candidate for the Westminster election Bernadette O'Hagan delivered the main address.
``Drumcree clearly exposed the bigotry of the Six County state and I applaud the people of the Garvaghy Road for their courageous stand,'' she said.
•O'Hagan also gave the main speech at Lurgan on Easter Sunday, where over 1,500 people, accompanied by the Lurgan Martyrs Flute Band, marched from Francis Street to St Colman's cemetery. O'Hagan attacked the British over their handling of the peace process.
To thunderous applause an IRA Volunteer delivered the leadership message.
•Meanwhile at Derrymacash 150 people paraded to the grave of Volunteer Michael Crossey who died in a bomb explosion in Lurgan in November 1971.
The limp Welsh flag flying over Crossmaglen's crown force barracks and the presence of heavily armed occupation forces from a Welsh regiment was in complete contrast to the upbeat mood prevalent among the Irish Republicans gathered to commemorate the Easter Rising.
The ease with which a masked and uniformed IRA Volunteer moved among the republican crowd was again in complete contrast to the nervous British soldiers moving around the town. As the Volunteer read out the IRA's Easter message a helicopter gunship flew overhead.
Former republican POW Pamela Kane from Dublin got a warm welcome to Cross as she gave the main oration.
•The parade in Cullyhanna followed the annual Volunteer Michael McVerry football match and the large crowd which marched the short distance to Volunteer McVerry's memorial close to the spot where Sinn Féin member Fergal Carragher was gunned down by British Marines. Dungannon councillor Francie Molloy gave the oration. He spoke of the need to challenge the British government ``as the people of Cullyhanna had for generations. What is needed is to give local south Armagh candidate Pat McNamee a huge vote on 1 May and end Seamus Mallon's sniping at even his own party leader's position in rebuilding the peace process''.
150 people took part in the commemoration in Sligo. The main address was given by Derry City Councillor Mary Nelis who, in the course of her oration, demanded the immediate release of Roisín McAliskey.
The commemoration in Carrickmore in County Tyrone is, after Belfast and Derry, the biggest in the Six Counties.
This Easter Sunday many of the thousands who came to Carrickmore had earlier attended smaller ceremonies where they laid wreaths at the graves of the many Volunteers from the county who have died in this phase of the freedom struggle.
From Aghyaran in the West to Clonoe in the East, these ceremonies gave the families of the dead Volunteers the chance to make their personal acts of remembrance.
Sinn Féin election candidates Gerry McHugh and Martin McGuinness gave orations at Edendork, Pomeroy and Clonoe.
At Clonoe Martin McGuinness said that before 1969 Northern Nationalists were on their knees but that it was the courage and sacrifice of the dead Volunteers that had shown that nationalists would never be defeated and would never be on their knees again.
In Carrickmore Sinn Féin Vice-President Pat Doherty, candidate in West Tyrone, spoke confidently of his chances of capturing the seat. ``Sinn Fein is the only party with credibility and the only party that can represent the new constituency at the negotiating table,'' he said and the enthusiastic applause from the crowd endorsed that view.
A crowd of over 70 people gathered in Waterford City on Easter Sunday to hear local trade union activist David Lane call on people to redouble their efforts to make the peace process work. The crowd marched to lay wreaths at a memorial where two Volunteers were executed during the civil war and at Waterford Corporation's monument to all those who died for Irish freedom.