1916 centenary: Higgins leads the tributes to the fallen at Kilmainham Gaol

President Michael D Higgins as he lays a wreath at the Stone Breakers' Yard in Kilmainham Gaol. Pic: PA

President Michael D Higgins and senior government ministers have led the tributes to the 1916 fallen at the Kilmainham Jail site where they were executed in an emotional reminder of the deaths of the Rising leaders.

Caretaker Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton, defence minister Simon Coveney and justice minister Frances Fitzgerald stood side by side with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness as the lives of the 14 men who died were honoured.

In a key commemoration event at the historic location, the Irish flag was lowered to half mast in front of Defence Forces personnel and relatives of those who died, before Mr Kenny and President Higgins laid wreaths on the same wall where the men were executed between May 3 and 12, 1916.

After a minute’s silence was observed, the ‘Piper’s Lament’ and the ‘Last Post’ were played, before Army captain Glen Harmon held a shining sword aloft to indicate the national anthem was to be played.

The event was one of a number of memorial services to take place yesterday, including a remembrance service at Glasnevin cemetery for the national anthem’s composer Peadar Kearney and the creator of the tricolour Edward Hollywood. Heritage minister Heather Humphreys told the crowd of delegates — which included British ambassador Dominick Chilcott, French ambassador Jean Pierre Thebault, and outgoing junior justice minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin?— the scenes recognised their “revolutionary spirit”.

Mr Kearney’s great grandson Dualta Ó Broinn sang Amhrán na Bhfiann, before saying his predecessor would have been “chuffed to bits” at the scenes as he had “died in poverty” and is rarely remembered publicly.

The memorial services came amid a number of separate speeches by politicians to mark 1916.

President Michael D Higgins began the commemorations weekend by urging the current generation to take responsibility for building a true Republic, telling 3,500 Rising relatives in the RDS on Saturday night that Ireland has yet to achieve “the dreams and ideals” for which participants gave their lives.

The head of state said it is vital that the “inspirational” participants are remembered not as “abstract or mythical figures” but as ordinary citizens who sought to make a difference.

However, noting the “deep institutional conservatism” which took hold in the decades after the Rising — an issue he said was because Padraig Pearse and James Connolly had been executed and so could not influence the 1922 Constitution — and the ongoing problems in the country, Mr Higgins said “in many respects we have not fully achieved the dreams and ideals for which our forebears gave so much”.

In a statement Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the public should “reflect on how far the country has come”.

“What was achieved in Easter week 100 years ago was not some traditional throwback as some of those who continue to misrepresent this event would have us believe,” he said.

Speaking at the Milltown cemetery commemoration in Belfast, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said sectarianism and division must be tackled if the vision of 1916 is to be realised.

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