Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Dublin yesterday as part of centenary commemorations marking the 1916 Easter Rising.
In what was the largest public event in the history of the Irish state, an estimated 250,000 people turned out for a poignant ceremony and a vast military parade.
President Michael D Higgins laid a wreath by the General Post Office in the city’s O’Connell Street, the former headquarters of the rebellion which sought to overthrow British rule in Ireland.
As the Irish tricolour was lowered to half-mast at the building, Captain Peter Kelleher from the Irish Defence Forces recited the 1916 Proclamation once read out by rebel leader, Patrick Pearse.
Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny then invited the head of state to lay a wreath on behalf of the people of Ireland.
He said: “In this centenary year, we honour the memory of those who died in 1916 with the respect and the dignity that is their due and we cherish 100 years later the principles and the ideal contained in our proclamation for which they fought.”
The president laid a laurel wreath in front of the building before a minute’s silence was observed. The Last Post was played, followed by the Irish national anthem, and the tricolour was raised back up.
On a sunny afternoon, scores of descendants of the rebels looked on as the main ceremony took place, with the crowds applauding as the Proclamation was delivered.
Among those looking on was Denis McCormack, whose voice cracked with emotion as he recalled his father’s gunrunning as a teenager in the Rising. James McCormack was 16 in 1916 and supported troops outside Dublin before going on to fight in the War Of Independence.
He ended up being interned in the military camp at the Curragh for eight months.
Mr McCormack said yesterday: “I just wanted to make sure that this day wouldn’t pass without me standing and saluting the GPO and the Irish flag and the republican flag over the GPO today.
“I’m sure my father would be proud for me to be here today, and especially to wear his medal ribbons.”
Former presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, former taoisigh (prime ministers) Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, Dublin’s Lord Mayor Criona Ni Dhalaigh as well as Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Garda chief Noirin O’Sullivan and British ambassador to Ireland Dominick Chilcott were among the dignitaries.
As part of the ceremony, children representing the four provinces of the island Ireland – Ulster, Leinster, Connacht and Munster – laid daffodils under the portico of the GPO as a lone piper played.
Father Seamus Madigan, head chaplain of Defence Forces, said the flower-laying was a “symbol of the unshakeable resolve to live together on this island in peace and harmony”.
The event was followed by a huge hours-long military parade in honour of the revolutionaries, including 3,722 Defence Forces personnel marching in front of military vehicles.
Emergency services personnel and army veterans, many of whom have served on United Nations’ peacekeeping missions, also took part.
Earlier, Mr Higgins laid a wreath at the spot where 14 rebels were executed for their part in the rising.
In an emotional ceremony at the Stone Breakers’ Yard in Kilmainham Gaol, he was flanked by a military guard of honour drawn from the Defence Forces cadet school.
After a minute’s silence, a lone piper from the Army No 1 Band played the lament Wrap The Green Flag Around Me Boys, before The Last Post was sounded.
Further commemorations are planned for today at each of the seven key battle sites in Dublin, with wreath laying ceremonies taking place at the 1916 garrisons.