Sinn Fein absent from Somme anniversary event in Belfast
The 102nd anniversary of the Battle of the Somme has been marked by dignified ceremonies of remembrance, both in Northern Ireland and on the battlefields of France.
In Belfast yesterday, a wreath was laid at the Cenotaph by the Deputy Lord Mayor, as well as by representatives of the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Airforce. The government was represented by NIO minister Shailesh Vara MP.
The Lord Lieutenant, Fionnuala Jay O'Boyle, also laid a wreath at the City Hall ceremony.
Irish business minister Heather Humphreys represented Leo Varadkar's government at the commemoration.
The Deputy Lord Mayor, Emmet McDonough-Brown, said: "It was a personal and political privilege to lead the procession on behalf of the citizens of Belfast.
"Unsurprisingly I am very mindful of the hurt and pain that occurs when lives are lost.
"In my own family, I am proud of my grandfather who fought fascism as a pilot with the RAF in World War Two, and also of my great uncle who died just before Armistice Day as a medical orderly.
"Those who went before me and who fought the evils of their time are uppermost in my mind today."
The DUP MPs for east, north and south Belfast - Gavin Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Emma Little-Pengelly - were among the other VIPs to lay wreaths at the cenotaph.
Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey did not attend the official commemoration at the city's cenotaph, but she and Sinn Fein colleagues did leave a laurel wreath and a card before the formal service began, a City Hall spokesman said. It continues an unofficial party tradition started by the first Sinn Fein Lord Mayor, Alex Maskey, in 2002.
A pre-printed card accompanied the Lord Mayor's wreath.
It carried an image of Easter lilies, with the words: "In proud and loving memory."
Ms Hargey had added her own handwritten message: "In rememberance (sic). Mayor of Belfast."
The Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, was in France, and led tributes at the Royal British Legion service at Thiepval and the Somme Association services at both the Ulster Tower and at Guillemont.
The Ulster Tower is dedicated to the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division; a Celtic cross at Guillemont honours the sacrifice of the soldiers of the 16th Irish Division who died in battle near the village.
"It is important that we remember all those from across the island of Ireland who gave their lives for our freedom during the First World War," Mrs Bradley said. "The Battle of the Somme in particular has an indelible link with Northern Ireland given the remarkable bravery shown, and the scale of the sacrifice made, by the 36th (Ulster) Division and the 16th (Irish) Division.
"It is difficult for us to comprehend the horror that these men faced as they went forward into battle, but their contribution and sacrifice was immense and we should never, ever forget it."
Carol Walker from the Somme Association said: "People realise just the great sacrifice that there was and people realise that we need to fight for these guys that fought over here for our freedom that we have today.
"Freedom is really important to us and hopefully that's what we learnt from this," she said.
The Battle of the Somme began on July 1, 1916, and is the bloodiest day in the Army's history.
The men of the 36th (Ulster) Division played a major role in the fighting, losing 2,069 men at the Somme.