Several hundred people accompanied by two bands participated in éirígí's Easter parade along the Falls Road to the original County Antrim republican memorial in Milltown cemetery where the socialist republican party’s annual commemoration was held.
The parade was led by a civilian colour party which carried the flag of Cumann na mBan.
Proceedings at the commemoration were chaired by Angie McFall.
The 1916 Proclamation was read by veteran Belfast Republican, Francie McGuigan. McGuigan, a former Long Kesh internee, was one of the ‘hooded men’ selected by the British military in 1971 for sensory deprivation and psychological experiments which were later declared by the European Court to be torture.
Several wreaths were placed at the Republican monument, including one laid on behalf of former political prisoners by Kevin Hannaway.
The main oration was delivered by Stephen Murney from Newry. Murney was recently released from prison where he had been held for 14 months until a court cleared him of all charges put against him by the PSNI and prosecution service.
The central theme throughout the éirígí commemoration related to the 100th anniversary of the formation of Cumann na mBan. Murney said it was only fitting fitting that, this year, as Republicans gather to honour all Ireland’s patriot dead, a special tribute should be given to all those women who played a full and active part in our liberation struggle.
He said, “Ireland has a long and noble record of many women who played, and who continue to play, prominent and leading roles in the struggles for national freedom, for social justice and for economic equality for all.
“Women in Ireland took up arms, raised funds, and hid fugitives during the Rebellion of 1798. In Wexford, Antrim and Down, women marched into combat beside the men and died beside them on the same battlefields.”
Stephen Murney went on to say, “The great strikes of 1913 that led up to the Dublin Lock-Out included many women workers who, later that year, founded the Irish Women Workers’ Union.
“The Irish Citizen Army, first formed as a workers’ defence force during the Lock-Out, included women in its ranks and accorded them equal status with the men.
“The founding of Cumann na mBan in 1914 was an important step forward by women to assert their role in Irish politics and to assist in the wider radicalisation of Irish women. Mary Spring Rice and Molly Childers served notice of the positive role that women could bring to the growing revolutionary movement when they were part of the crew on board the Asgard which landed arms for the Volunteers in Howth.
“The Proclamation of the Provisional Government read aloud by Pádraic Pearse outside the GPO was addressed to Irishmen and Irishwomen alike.
“That declaration of freedom granted women equal citizenship, equal opportunities and equal rights in the new Irish Republic.
“Ireland’s women, through the Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan, were directly involved during the fighting of Easter week.
“Countess Markievicz was in charge of Republican forces at Stephen’s Green. Among the last people to leave the GPO in 1916 were Cumann na mBan members Julia Grenan, Elizabeth O’Farrell and Belfast’s Winifred Carney who is buried in this cemetery.
“Along with over seventy other women, they were each imprisoned by the British for their part in the Rising.
“Women’s involvement in the Republican struggle intensified during the Tan War and the period of the counter revolution. Hundreds of women were imprisoned during that time.
Pointing out that Cumann na mBan had voted unanimously against 1921 Treaty, the éirígí speaker went on to say, “In each of the following decades, in the 30s, 40s, 50s and through to more recent years, Cumann na mBan continued to be at the forefront of the struggle for Irish freedom.
“Like the men, those women made great sacrifices—they gave up their previously peaceful existences for the Republican struggle.
“Many of those women lost husbands and sons, lost boyfriends, postponed marriages and other life plans; they spent time in prison, on hunger-strikes, and they experienced reprisals against their families by the state.
“Some like the late Máire Drumm and Patricia Black, among many others, ultimately gave their own lives.”
Murney continued, “In this centenary year of the formation of Cumann na mBan, it is right that we salute and honour all those women who, across many generations, have played a part in our national liberation struggle.
“In that respect, it is correct that we acknowledge and send solidarity to those women who are currently imprisoned in Ireland for their political beliefs – women such as Ursula Ní Shionnain in Limerick gaol and Sharon Rafferty, Christine Connors and Nuala Gormley in Hydebank.
“We also send solidarity to our Palestinian sisters in struggle imprisoned by the Israeli state.
“When Mairéad Farrell stated that Irishwomen had been oppressed both as women and as Irish people, she spoke an undeniable truth.
“It is always worth reminding ourselves that women’s participation in the Republican struggle was not just to achieve national liberation, it was also about the struggle of working-class women for better living conditions, for better working conditions and pay, and for a radical political voice.”
Murney continued, “All those whom we honour today did not engage in struggle to defend or maintain British rule.
“They did not engage in struggle to defend or legitimise partition.
“Those whom we honour today sought an end to imperialism and monarchy, they did not seek to dine with, or pay deference to, any figure-head representing those unjust social, economic or political systems.”
He told his audience, “Over the next two years as the centenary year of the Easter Rising draws near, the modern-day forces of counter-revolution will embark upon an unprecedented revisionist propaganda campaign aimed at trying to persuade the public mind that the objectives of 1916 have been secured through the partition of our country.
“We must be prepared to challenge that propaganda campaign both north and south.”
The Newry man went on to urge all those gathered to fully ensure that their female comrades are treated equally and respectfully, that their opinions are listened to and that their presence, advice and knowledge is valued and appreciated by all.