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Easter Rising centenary 'a celebration as well as a commemoration'

Published 27/03/2016

The GPO was the key site of the Easter Rising
The GPO was the key site of the Easter Rising
Grace Nic Mhathuna, six, from Dublin, waves a flag outside the GPO (Irish Government /PA)

Denis McCormack's voice cracked with emotion as he recalled his father's gunrunning as a teenager in the Rising.

In front of thousands on College Green he fought back tears and patted the ribbons on his chest which charted James McCormack's service with the Irish Volunteers from 1916-22.

"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," he said.

A Tricolour in one hand and a green, white and orange sash over a shoulder, Mr McCormack was making his way with his four daughters and grandchildren to pay his own personal respects at the battlefield site on O'Connell Street.

His father was 16 in 1916 and supported troops outside Dublin and went on to fight in the War Of Independence and ended up interned in the Curragh for eight months.

In 1971 Eamon de Valera honoured him with a medal.

"It's a day I'll never be able to repeat of course and I'm sure my father would be proud for me to be here today and especially to wear his medal ribbons," Mr McCormack said.

While many reflected on history as they thronged the 4.5km route from Stephen's Green to Christchurch and past Trinity College to Parnell Square, others spoke of peace, inclusivity and acceptance in modern Ireland.

Anne Adamson, 65, and Kate Lydon, 50, from Donaghmede in north Dublin, strained their necks over Westmoreland Street to find relatives who had flown from America on the eve of the commemoration.

The couple, who have been together for 15 years, recently announced their engagement and are to be married in September.

They spoke of their new found confidence following last year's gay marriage referendum.

"I thought I might as well get someone to look after me when I'm old," Ms Adamson said.

"We were a little unsure about telling colleagues, but it wasn't a big deal - everyone said they kind of had an idea."

Ms Lydon welcomed the inclusivity the gay rights law has brought but she questioned the political limbo the Republic has sunk into in the wake of the most divisive election in history.

"I wonder what the rebel leaders would think if they were here. I don't know whether they would be too impressed with the way things are today in politics," she said.

The ceremonies at the GPO were impeccably well observed by the thousands at the top of O'Connell Street.

There was one slight murmur of discontent that stirred through the crowd as Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny was introduced, but that was quickly drowned out by laughter.

Among the many sporting ancestral medals on the thoroughfare was Gregory Lawlor from Rathfarnham.

He proudly flashed honours given to his father Sean McKeown for fighting with the Irish Volunteers from 1921-23, the old IRA as it is known.

"I'm here to remember all those who served Ireland and those who died for Ireland, deeply and sorely," he said.

"It was neglected for too long. It's about time young people got some idea of being Irish and what it means."

Gerry Noble from Portmarnock, north Dublin, dressed for the day in period clothes with his wife Helen and her sister Letitia Trappe.

"It's such a large part of our recent history, a celebration as well as a commemoration. It has to be commemorated but certainly it has to be celebrated as well," Mr Noble said.

Many tourists made up the crowds, not least the extended Barry family from Rochester, New York.

History teacher and father-of-two Gavin Barry had achieved a major ambition by making it to Dublin for the centenary.

"Last year it was a toss-up between putting a new roof on the house or coming over to Ireland - the roof can wait," he said.

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