Former soldiers from Ireland and the North stood shoulder to shoulder today to honour servicemen killed in the First and Second World Wars.
As police in Belfast prepared to launch a major security operation amid fears of trouble at a homecoming parade by Armed Forces in the city tomorrow, wreaths were laid in Drogheda, Co Louth, to remember the fallen heroes.
Around 150 people gathered at the Cenotaph at the only all-Ireland remembrance event to pay tribute to the hundreds of men from the town killed fighting with the British Forces.
The ex-servicemen from both sides of the border condemned protesters demonstrating against the homecoming for troops.
D-Day veteran John Jenkin said the protests were a disgrace.
“We came to Drogheda today, it was a beautiful service with Catholics and Protestants next to each other,” said the 88-year-old from Carrickfergus, Antrim.
“There was no animosity between anyone. Thousands of good Catholic men gave their lives for the country.
“The protests are ridiculous. They are only by a certain few who are ignorant.
“These men have been out there fighting for the freedom of other people. It is only right that we welcome them home.”
Jim Bowman, who served with the RUR from 1965 to 1975, stressed the event was not a victory parade but a homecoming.
“The Royal Irish Regiment are from the north and south, all over the country, and they should be allowed to walk,” said the 62-year-old from Bangor, Co Down.
“You can’t even imagine what they’ve just been through.”
The Irish Ex-Service Men’s Association and representatives from across the North, headed by Whiteabbey Royal British Legion, lay wreaths bearing the Royal Crest and Tricolour during the ecumenical service.
The mayors of Newtownabbey and Drogheda – Victor Robinson and Frank Maher - represented their communities at the inter-denominational religious ceremony, which has been held in the town for the past nine years.
Drogheda man Joe Lynch, a member of the Irish Defence Forces for 23 years, said it paid tribute to the local and Irish men who died and supported tomorrow’s thanksgiving parade.
“We don’t have any problem with any of our Nato comrades,” he said.
“I believe they should be remembered and should be welcomed home.”
A major security operation has been planned by police amid fears of trouble in Belfast city centre during the homecoming.
Despite moves by Sinn Fein protesters and the British Army to diffuse tension by moving protesters away from the route and cancelling a flypast, concerns remain about the potential for clashes between republican and loyalist extremists.
Ted Scott, 67, from Belfast, said it was important to recognise the actions of brave solders from the Republic both at the memorial and tomorrow.
“Soldiers don’t care where people come from, once they watching each other’s back,” said the former Royal Ulster Regiment (RUR) member.
“I will definitely be at the homecoming tomorrow to support them.
“Those guys went out there to give their all and they might not have come back. They had a job to do and they went and did it.
“It’s the people with nice cushy desk jobs who are protesting. It’s sad.”