Tánaiste: Armistice was ‘a momentous day for the whole of Europe’
Belfast Mayor absent from ceremony to not ‘celebrate’ or ‘legitimise British imperialism’
The Tánaiste has spoken of the importance of attending a remembrance ceremony in Belfast marking the centenary of the end of the first World War.
A series of events took place in the North on Sunday to mark the conflict ending on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918 after an armistice was signed in France.
Following a wreath laying ceremony at the cenotaph in the Garden of Remembrance in the grounds of Belfast City Hall, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney, said Armistice day was “a momentous day for the whole of Europe”.
Speaking to reporters after he placed a laurel wreath on the cenotaph, he reflected on the 200,000 Irish men and women who fought in the first World War, 40,000 of whom never returned.
“We have a shared history of tragedy that deserves respect and deserves to be remembered appropriately,” he said.
During a time when Europe was pausing and reflecting on “lessons learned” he said it was very important to be in Belfast on behalf of the Government and the people it represents.
“I chose to be in Belfast, it is where I wanted to be and I hope in a small way it reaches out to some who may see the Irish Government through a different lens perhaps,” he said.
The centenary was a reminder that the European Union is a peace project focused on “bringing people together”, he added. “But I think on days like today it is about remembering people in the past who made extraordinary sacrifices to give us the kind of country that we have today.”
Absent Lord Mayor
Northern Secretary Karen Bradley and Alliance Party deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Emmet McDonough Brown were among those to lay poppy wreaths on the cenotaph.
Representatives of all the main churches were present as well as the armed forces and Police Service of Northern Ireland Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin.
Sinn Féin’s Belfast Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey was not in attendance. A party spokesman said its representatives would not take part in events which “celebrate or attempt to legitimise British imperialism”.
Ms Bradley said it was “a deeply poignant day as we all remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today”.
Cllr McDonough-Brown said: “Everyone has a family who was touched by either of the world wars and subsequent conflicts. It is important politicians show grace and respect for those who have gone before us and remember them in the best spirit today.”
Eleven people died when a Provisional IRA bomb exploded at a Remembrance Sunday event in the town 1987. Eleven people were killed, while a 12th victim fell into a coma two days afterwards and died 13 years later.
A number of families of the bomb victims were present for the ceremony.
Armistice commemorations started before dawn in the town with a lone piper playing at an event at Enniskillen Castle ay 6am.
Remembrance ceremonies also took place in Derry, Lisburn and other towns.
Other events included a centenary Armistice Day service at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast, and beacon lightings in Castlederg, Derry and other places.
People also took part in community events at Murlough Beach, Co Down, Portstewart Strand and Downhill Beach, Co Derry, and Port Bán, Co Donegal, as part of a ‘Pages of the Sea’ project created by Oscar-winning film director Danny Boyle. Poetry formed part of the events and large-scale portraits of casualties from the war were drawn into the sand at low tide and washed away as the tide came in.