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27 January 2000 Edition

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50,000 honour Williams

Tom Williams was one of the roll call of Republican Martyrs, very ordinary people who went on to do extraordinary things because of the extraordinary times that they lived in, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams told a 50,000 strong crowd attending the fallen Volunteer's commemoration in Belfast's Milltown Cemetery last Sunday. Many observers commented that it was the biggest show of strength in the city since Bobby Sands' funeral in 1981. The commemoration had been organised by Belfast National Graves Association to give republicans throughout Ireland the opportunity to pay tribute to a brave Volunteer and bid their final farewell.

Tom Williams was only 19 years of age when he was executed in Crumlin Road Jail. A massive campaign, which included a 200,000-signature petition, to secure his reprieve was ignored by the British and Stormont authorities and the execution went ahead on 2 September 1942.

The body of the executed IRA Volunteer was buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls, where it has remained for over 50 years. A campaign to secure the release of his remains began almost immediately after his death and continued until its successful conclusion late last year.


Until that certain day



by Laura Friel

 

For over a half a century, Tom Williams' name has been remembered and revered amongst northern nationalists and republicans. Thousands of people attended his funeral last Wednesday week. Tens of thousands were expected at the commemoration last Sunday and no one's expectations were disappointed.

Blue skies and sunshine greeted people as they patiently stood in line waiting for over an hour before the commemoration began. The proceedings began with a short ceremony outside the Bombay Street house in which Tom Williams had lived with his Granny Fay. This was followed by a silent parade from Clonard Street to Milltown Cemetery.

Accompanied only by the single drum beat, the marchers took over an hour to reach their destination. Thousands of people lined the route in what was one of the largest commemorations seen in Belfast for many years. A republican guard of honour stood at the graveside and as they stood to attention, a portrait of Tom Williams was placed on the grave, together with a Tricolour and Williams' beret and gloves. Wreaths were laid on behalf of Óglaigh na hÉireann, GHQ staff and Belfast Brigade, Belfast National Graves, Republican POWs, Sinn Féin and the GAA.

Delivering the oration, Gerry Adams said that the generation of IRA Volunteers during the recent phase of struggle was no different to that of IRA Volunteers like Tom Williams in the 1940s or of republicans who took part in the Easter Rising. ``We are Irish republicans. We are unrepentant about the right of the people of this island to freedom,'' said Adams.

Adams said republicans were proud of all 355 Volunteers listed on the IRA roll of honour. ``If there is truly to be a healing process, then there has to be an understanding of the equivalence of grief. To pretend, as elements of the media and the political establishment does, that republican Volunteers do not have families, do not have loved ones, have not got feelings, is part of the open wound that has yet to be healed as part of any conflict resolution process.''

The Sinn Féin leader said a unionist leader has yet to acknowledge publicly the injustice of partition or the decades of unionist misrule. ``That will come,'' said Adams, ``as part of a new dispensation is built and all sections of our people will go forward with a better understanding that no one has any monopoly on suffering.''

Closing the proceedings, veteran republican Joe Cahill reminded us of Tom Williams' words prior to his execution. ``Carry on no matter what the odds are against you, to carry on, no matter what torments are inflicted on you. The road to freedom is paved with suffering, hardships and torture, carry on my gallant and brave comrades until that certain day.''
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