Today marks 104 years to the day since thousands of soldiers from Ulster, and across Ireland, went over the top of the trenches in northern France - beginning the Battle of the Somme.
Of the nine Victoria Crosses awarded that day, four were earned by Ulstermen. By the end of the day many more had made the ultimate sacrifice.
In normal circumstances, I would have been representing Her Majesty's Government today at the annual remembrance ceremony taking place at Northern Ireland's national war memorial, the Ulster Tower in France. Sadly, due to ongoing public health restrictions, that was not possible - however, I am pleased that a wreath will be laid on my behalf by the Somme Association in honour of those from the 36th (Ulster) Division who laid down their lives.
The Division lost some 5,500 men over two days of battle, either killed, wounded or missing. Ordinary individuals exemplifying extraordinary bravery in the face of adversity.
The Ulster Tower is a fitting monument to the fallen; standing pristine and tall in the serene French countryside, surrounded by poppy fields.
The tower, with the nearby Thiepval Memorial, are the only indication of the horrors of war and the confrontation which unfolded there over a century ago.
Next year, the tower will mark its centenary as one of the first memorials to be erected on the Western Front.
As is tradition, wreaths will also be laid at the memorial in the nearby village of Guillemont which commemorates the sacrifice of the 16th (Irish) Division who fought there, and at Ginchy, so heroically in September 1916, suffering 4,200 casualties.
This is a poignant and important reminder of our shared and intertwined history on these islands.
Regardless of background or political affiliation, brave men from across the island of Ireland volunteered and fought together for the greater good. Many did not make it home.
This collective and unprecedented heroism will be recalled in the various tributes paid today at Belfast City Hall, and at other memorial events across Northern Ireland.
Despite these difficult times, it is a privilege for us all to pause to remember those who fought so valiantly on our behalf and it is appropriate we salute the sacrifice made by all those from across the island of Ireland throughout the First World War.
We owe a great deal to the courage and professionalism displayed by our armed forces, not just on that day, but every day since - without their contribution and, in so many cases, sacrifices, Northern Ireland would not be the place it is today.
The UK Government will always uphold the values of democracy and justice, preserved by those who fought on our behalf at the Somme and on many other battlefields since.
We owe our freedoms to them, and we must never forget.
Brandon Lewis CBE MP is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland