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Battle of the Somme fallen are honoured at Belfast City Hall memorial

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John Finucane lays a wreath on behalf of Sinn Fein

John Finucane lays a wreath on behalf of Sinn Fein

Stephen Hamilton

John Finucane lays a wreath on behalf of Sinn Fein

Thousands of soldiers who died fighting at the Somme have been commemorated on the anniversary of the first day of the battle 103 years ago.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Irish Education Minister Joe McHugh were among those who laid wreaths at the Cenotaph in Belfast yesterday.

Military veterans also placed wreaths at the memorial in the grounds of City Hall, as did DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, UUP leader Robin Swann and Belfast Deputy Lord Mayor Peter McReynolds.

In keeping with recent tradition, Sinn Fein Lord Mayor John Finucane laid a laurel wreath in a low-key ceremony alongside party colleagues ahead of the formal proceedings.

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Irish Education Minister Joe McHugh

Irish Education Minister Joe McHugh

PA

Irish Education Minister Joe McHugh

Around 3,500 soldiers from across Ireland died fighting at the Somme in 1916.

The 36th Ulster Division, made up mainly of Ulster protestants, sustained huge losses at Thiepval on the first day of the battle.

The 16th Irish Division - whose ranks were filled with nationalists - also endured major casualties when they joined the fight at Guillemont in September that year.

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While their sacrifice has always held major significance in unionist culture, only in recent times has the contribution of the Irishmen who fought for Britain won greater recognition among nationalists.

Mrs Bradley said: "We are here to mark the anniversary of the Somme, a battle in which thousands of men from the island of Ireland gave their lives, and the fact we are here 103 years later in a free democracy is a testament to their sacrifice."

Mr McHugh said it was important for the Irish Government to be represented at the event, which was about ordinary people who had made an extraordinary sacrifice.

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Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Nigel Dodds

"We have a shared history on our island and it's something that should be remembered," he added.

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Karen Bradley

Karen Bradley

Photopress Belfast

Karen Bradley

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