1916 centenary: Commemoration draws huge crowds to capital as thousands join dignitaries for historic ceremony

Political leaders, Rising relatives, the Defence Forces, and public servants joined together yesterday in an historic 1916 commemoration that repeatedly sought to include all parts of Irish society.

1916 centenary: Commemoration draws huge crowds to capital as thousands join dignitaries for historic ceremony

Hundreds of thousands of people travelled to the capital to witness the two-hour once-in-a-lifetime event as emotionally charged remembrances of what happened outside the GPO a century ago took centre stage.

From just before 11am beside St Stephen’s Green until after 2pm outside Capel Street, the historic 3,722-strong commemoration parade snaked through 4.5km of a closed-off Dublin city centre to honour those who fought and died in 1916.

However, the event’s organisers and those who spoke also repeatedly emphasised how the event was marking the work of those who have followed them in building a better Ireland in one of the most inclusive versions of the event’s history.

The commemorations outside the GPO began in earnest at 11.40am when defence minister Simon Coveney, caretaker Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton and President Michael D Higgins arrived separately to inspect the guard of honour.

As hundreds of 1916 relatives; ex-taoisigh Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and Liam Cosgrave; ex-presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese; British ambassador Dominick Chilcott; cabinet ministers; Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, and Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald; other politicians; and garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan looked on, the Tricolour flying over the GPO was lowered to half mast at exactly 12pm.

Addressing the watching crowd of delegates and members of the public Seamus Madigan, head chaplain of the defence forces, read out a specially worded prayer to those who died in 1916 who “sought to create a more inclusive and just society”.

Asking that “you look kindly on the people of Ireland”, he said now is the time for “a new song” for the country of “compassion, social justice and respect”. He said “another day begins” for those seeking to move away from “our troubled history”.

After inviting four children from each province to each place a bouquet of daffodils outside the GPO, Cork-born army captain Peter Kelleher re-read the proclamation at 12.10pm to impeccable silence before the army number one band played a rendition of ‘Mise Éire’.

At 12.20pm, caretaker Taoiseach Enda Kenny rose to lay a wreath outside the historic building, before telling the crowd in this centenary year Ireland must “honour those who died with the respect and dignity they are due” while cherishing “the ideals in the proclamation for which they fought”.

Placing the wreath on the doors of the GPO, he said the symbol was for “all those who died”, before he was followed by President Higgins and an emotionally charged minute’s silence.

As the Tricolour was raised again and ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ played, the Air Corps completed a flypast spraying green, white and orange cloud-trails behind, before the parade itself passed by.

Led by Air Corps lieutenant Gearóid Ó Briain, a great grandson of Cathal Brugha, and followed by Sergeant Jimmy Pearce who carried the Starry Plough flag, the subsequent 90 minutes saw a 3,722-strong parade including the defence forces; UN veterans; “blue lights” ambulance, coastguard and fire brigade members; and others march past.

After reading out the proclamation, Captain Kelleher, from Douglas in Cork, told reporters he was “humbled by the experience, to walk in the footsteps of the men and women who went through 1916”.

Describing it as “a huge honour and privilege”, the Lebanon and Chad veteran revealed he had to audition for the part by video and then in a live re-enactment.

“Luckily my second audition went a little bit better than my first one, I was stuttering and stumbling,” he said, before joking when asked what he was thinking yesterday:

“I was thinking about not making a mess of it,” he said.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner as the commemorations ended, 80-year-old Harry O’Hanrahan who had five relatives who took part in 1916, said it was “a wonderful day”.

However, while welcoming the “marvellous” enthusiasm he said Ireland still had a lot of problems to resolve. The Dundalk, Co Louth, native’s great grand uncle Micheal was executed on May 4, 1916, at Kilmainham Jail — where the day began with a solemn wreath-laying ceremony — while another great grand uncle, also called Harry, was “supposed to be shot two days later” before seeing his sentence commuted alongside Countess Markievicz to life in prison.

Three great-grandaunts, Aileen, Maire and Aine, also “worked tirelessly” for Cumann na mBán, he said, and would be overjoyed with the remembrances.

Asked about the difference in the 2016 commemorations to those at the 50th anniversary in 1966, Mr O’Hanrahan said: “They were different days, we had Eamon D at the other one. Today, I suppose today I’ve grown up, if you like. I feel I’ve learned an awful lot in that time, the country thankfully has improved. Our country by God has things to do, we certainly have, but please God we’ll get there.”

‘Be idealistic about everything you do’

The grandniece of Irish revolutionaries John MacBride and Maud Gonne has paid tribute to the Easter Rising centenary commemorations, saying the events show why people must be “idealistic about everything you do”.

Mary MacBride Walsh made the remarks after watching the parade through Dublin city centre yesterday.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner in the moments after the ceremonies ended, the 54-year-old mother of five said she “loved every second” of the proceedings, and believed her late relatives would be proud of what took place.

The Westport native said watching the parade “makes me very emotional” and that the eventual realisation of a self-governing Irish nation after the 1916 rising shows “you have to try to be idealistic about everything you do”.

Ms MacBride’s grand uncle and grand aunt were major John MacBride and Maud Gonne, who were key to the years surrounding the rising a century ago.

Mr MacBride was executed alongside James Connolly on May 5, 1916, for his role in the rising, while Ms Gonne is best remembered for her campaigning for home rule and turbulent relationship with the poet WB Yeats.

Mr MacBride and Ms Gonne’s childson, Seán MacBride, died in 1988. He was a former chief of staff of the old IRA, a Fianna Fáil government minister, and a widely regarded international peacemaker.

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