Armistice centenary: Show of solidarity at Belfast cenotaph

The grounds of Belfast City Hall were packed to capacity for the Armistice Day commemoration
The grounds of Belfast City Hall were packed to capacity for the Armistice Day commemoration

Unionists stood shoulder to shoulder with a significant number of nationalist representatives at Belfast’s cenotaph on Sunday for the Armistice centenary commemorations.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley represented the UK government while Republic or Ireland deputy prime minister Simon Coveney laid a wreath on behalf of the Irish government.

Irish deputy premier Simon Coveney (in glasses) at Belfast cenotaph

Irish deputy premier Simon Coveney (in glasses) at Belfast cenotaph

The larger than usual number of people attending the morning service reflected the added poignancy of the 100-year anniversary.

Around 1,500 onlookers flanked the cenotaph and lined Donegall Square West while the wreaths were laid to the sound of the Royal Irish Regiment band.

As well as members of the armed services, all of the main churches and emergency services were represented.

Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin attended on behalf of the police with Chief Constable George Hamilton the PSNI’s representative at a special memorial service in St Anne’s Cathedral later in the afternoon.

The Duke of York attended the Armistice Day service at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast

The Duke of York attended the Armistice Day service at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast

Deputy Mayor Emmet McDonough-Brown attended on behalf of the lord mayor as Sinn Fein’s Deirdre Hargey had decided she would not take part.

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative MP and minister at the Ministry of Defence, was also among those paying their respects to the fallen.

The Duke of York was in Belfast for the Armistice centenary service at St Anne’s.

Led by Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde, the St Anne’s event coincided with similar commemorations in Dublin, Glasgow and Cardiff.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson chats to Secretary of State Karen Bradley outside St Anne's Cathedral

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson chats to Secretary of State Karen Bradley outside St Anne's Cathedral

Celebrated Belfast poet Michael Longley read his work Ceasefire, and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, chairman of the NI First World War Committee gave a reading.

Speaking ahead of the service, Mr Donaldson said: “As we gather on Sunday ... I feel it is appropriate to reflect on the progress that has been made with the themes of remembrance and reconciliation chosen for our commemoration.”

In a break with tradition, there was no laying of wreaths. Instead, during a ‘moment of reflection,’ volumes of Ireland’s Memorial Records were laid at a field altar of the type used by troops on the front line.

The books were carried by four people – representing families that had at least one family member killed in the war.

The Act of Remembrance service at Belfast City Hall

The Act of Remembrance service at Belfast City Hall

Addressing the congregation, Catholic Archbishop of Ireland Eamon Martin said the wartime sacrifice of soldiers from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds has “bequeathed a shared responsibility to heal the past”.

Archbishop Martin said: “Sadly, because of the cruel twists and tensions of our history of conflict, the fact that Irish Catholics and Protestants fought and died, side by side, was neglected for too long – and perhaps conveniently – by all sides, both north and south of the border. People preferred to cling on to a history of difference and separation, rather than recognise and embrace our shared story of common suffering.”

He added:“In recent years I have grown to understand more fully that, whilst we may remember in different ways, and whilst our forebears had differing and often conflicting approaches to the war, what unites us now in their memory is so much greater than anything that is talked up to divide us.”

In a letter published in the order of service, the Repubic’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said: “For far too long remembrance of the war on the island was a source of division.

“There was a sense that commemoration of the young Irishmen who died in the Somme or Gallipoli was a political declaration, or a marker of community identity.”