13 April 2002
Republicans gather in Dublin to pay tribute to families of fallen patriots
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP will this evening address an audience of more than 2,500 people in the City West Hotel in Dublin at a national event called Tírghrá - to pay tribute to the families of IRA Volunteers, Sinn Fein activists and other republican activists who were killed in recent times.
It falls to me speak to you here tonight. Others perhaps are more suited to address you on this occasion but I am very proud to have been chosen to say these few words. I have to say at the outset that this is a most difficult task.
Tá muid anseo le buíochas agus meas a theaspaint do chlanna na bpoblachtóirí a fuair bás i rith na bliana. Mar is eol daoibh, rinne gach cheantar ómós do na hÓglaigh agus baill Shinn Fein a fuair bás le linn an chogaidh, ach ní raibh cruinniú nó teacht le chéile mar seo a riamh i saol ár streachailt. Is fíor ócáid stáiriúl é ansin Mar sin, caithfidh muid íobairt na gclanna seo a mholadh. Ba chailliúnt s'againne é chomh maith. Nuair a fuair duine ar bith bás sa chogadh sa tír seo, go háirithe ag troid ar ár son, ghortaigh sé muid uilig. Is é sin an fhírinne.
Some of us gathered here tonight first met at a time of great trauma in your lives as you absorbed the shock and pain at the loss of a loved one. We came as strangers to be with you and you greeted us with great tenderness and love and humanity. We came to comfort you, and time and time again it was we who were comforted by you. This evening is our thanks for all that.
It is a night of commemoration.
It is a night of celebration.
It is a night of commendation.
It is a night for us to pay tribute.
I am not going to name one person here this evening. But I do want to single out the group of people who organised this very unique event.
They know individually who they are, and whether it be the organising committee, the performers, the musicians, those who have travelled to be with us, those who produced the Tírghrá book and the video, or who designed and made your presentations, or provided this back drop, the sound, and other technical support, or the sponsors, the security people or your chaperones, I want to thank you all. There are two and a half thousand people here. And there are thousands and thousands more who would love to be here. And why is that so?
It is because Republicans and nationalists hold the families of our republican dead in great esteem. It is because we are in your debt. It is because we understand and have an affinity with you. It is because we are proud of you. And of your men and women, and your boys and girls And tonight is a night in which we remember them all.
11 days from now 86 years ago the Irish Republic was proclaimed in the Easter Proclamation of 1916, and asserted in arms by republican men and women of that time.
We remember them. We recall those throughout the last century, and particularly those families represented here tonight, from the high points in the 20s. Or the great counter-revolution of the Civil War and the viciousness of the failed attempt at that time to smash Irish republicanism.
We welcome people here from the lean periods of the 30s, the 40s and 50s, and the 60s.
Céad míle failte romhaibh.
Of course the bulk of our attendance here tonight is from that unprecedented period of struggle, of the 1970s, the 80s and the 90s - the end of the last century. All of you - the families of our patriot dead - are very welcome here this evening. All of the people here tonight have suffered. But all of us are also very mindful that no one has a monopoly on suffering or of the pain and emptiness that comes with bereavement.
Republicans freely acknowledge the grief of all those - enemies as well as friends - who have lost loved ones in the conflict. Republicans are also very mindful of the plight of the families of the civilian dead, whose grief, bewilderment and sense of loss is undoubtedly different from any other section. Part of our great endeavour at this time is to reach out to make peace with those we have hurt and with those who have hurt us. And even here tonight, on this very republican occasion, I want to once again stress to unionists that we want to build upon the opportunity for peace that exists.
Our commitment is to equality, to building a democracy and to ensuring that never again will anyone on this island be demonized as second class. Those days are over.
But Tírghrá is our opportunity to pay a special tribute to you, the families of our republican dead.
Tonight is for you and your loved ones who we commemorate and whose lives and courage and achievements we celebrate.
Of the 365 names on the Roll of Honour the vast majority are of IRA Volunteers. Many died on active service against the British Forces, some at the hands of loyalists, others as a result of tragic accidents. They were ordinary men and women, some little more than boys and girls, who saw injustice and who struck for freedom. They were prepared to put their lives on the line in pursuit of that noble cause. They died in back streets, or on quiet country roads, in glens and valleys and mountainsides. They died in prison cells on hunger strike or on escapes or through the lack of medical attention. Some died in Britain itself. Others fell further afield.
Sinn Fein activists died also. Elected representatives, constituency workers, family members, people who paid dearly to represent our party and our electorate. Women from Cumann na mBan died as well.
So did others involved in work for the prisoners or in welfare work alongside boys and girls from Na Fianna and Na gCailíní. Some will ask why? Others will say was it worth it?
Most especially it is you the families, you who were left to rear orphans, you who were robbed of a partner who can legitimately put those questions. But you can also answer them. Because you knew your brothers and sisters, your sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, your spouses. You know their dreams and their frailties, their flaws and their strengths. You know what motivated them. You know it was not self-gain. You know that they did what they did because that was their choice. Because they were people with a vision. Because they were people who wanted to see a better tomorrow for everyone on this island.
It is in the nature of life that there are inequalities, that there is unfairness, that there is injustice. It is in the nature of British rule in our country that up until now these have been perpetuated and defended by the use of force by the armed wing of British governments and their surrogates. It is in the human condition, and particularly in the Irish context, though this is also universal, that armed aggression is met with armed resistance, particularly and especially when there is no alternative.
That is what the IRA was about but none of us here are carried away with notions of romanticism which frequently ignores the cruelty and the horror of war. We know the reality.
The war in the north was vicious, dirty, and brutal. But out of it emerged an IRA often described by its opponents as one of the most effective guerilla armies in the world; as one of the few guerilla armies fighting from within occupied territory against numerically superior foes, and which enjoyed substantial community support.
That support saw ordinary families run enormous risk to clothe, feed and shelter and protect IRA Volunteers. But no guerilla army can survive on the assistance of its friends and allies alone.
The strength and character of any guerilla army is to be found in the calibre of the men and women who make it up. And the calibre of IRA Volunteers is extraordinary.
During the conflict the IRA existed cheek by jowl with the British Forces with their massive technical and financial resources, as well as a compliant legal and judicial system, and a battery of repressive laws. And despite all of this the forces of the crown failed. And they failed because of you. They failed to defeat the IRA because they failed to defeat you.
Republicans have a very specific goal - a democratic goal - the freedom and independence of Ireland and the Irish people, and the establishment of a national republic. It is that mission that informed and inspired the IRA and its Volunteers.
But the IRA is not merely an army of soldiers; it is an army of political activists and it has demonstrated again and again amazing tenacity, determination and commitment. Not least in helping to create the space for a peace process. And in saving and enhancing that process when the actions of others threatened to bring it down. It takes bravery to wage war but it takes a special courage to sue for peace. The reality is that there would be no peace process if it were not for the IRA.
We also remember tonight those Sinn Fein activists and other republicans who have died. Their part in this great historic struggle is no less demanding of our admiration and praise.
I want to pay a special tribute to our women. To that strong, dignified, good humoured, generous, indomitable and anonymous mass of heroines - the invincible Republican women of Ireland - who are our backbone, our guides, our conscience, our strength and our future. All of you found in difficult and dangerous times the inner courage and strength to stand against aggression and oppression, and to demand the rights and entitlements of the Irish people. We salute you all.
Nations are built through sharing experiences, memories, a common history. That is why the British government and others have frequently tried to destroy our history, our language and culture, our memories - all of the things that give us our unique identity as a people. But we remain unbowed and unbroken. More than that we refuse to forget. We refuse to let our memories be taken from us, to be reshaped or twisted. To be deemed illegitimate or criminal.
Our memory is strong. Our memories of our friends and family and comrades we celebrate tonight are precious to us. They have been forged at a great cost and we will not forget.
Tá muid bródúil as ár gcairde. Tá athas orainn gur chaith siad tamall linn, gur thriod siad ar son mhuintír na hEireann. Dhiúltaigh siad geilleadh tosc go raibh fís acu. Bhí fís acu d'Éire nua, Éire aontaithe, Éire le síochán cóir agus ceart. Agus d'fhulaing siad ar son na físe sin. None of us should underestimate our abilities. All of us should have confidence in our potential to succeed.
So, tonight I propose to you here, as we cry and laugh and make music and tell one another stories of the antics and bravery of those we remember, I propose that we renew our determination to pursue and advance and win the freedom they died for.
That we remember with pride and love all of those who loved life and lived it to the full. But who loved freedom more and who led by example. That we build a new Ireland, a free and independent Ireland, in which all citizens are cherished equally. These achievements, which I believe this generation of Irish republicans will succeed in attaining, will be living monuments to the patriots whose names are emblazoned behind me.
We owe you, their families, a debt that can only be repaid through the success of our struggle for the liberation of the Irish people. That struggle goes on.
To all of you, to the families and friends of the fallen, but especially to all of our fallen comrades, our pledge tonight is to persevere until the day of freedom they lived and died for is achieved.
Last month I spoke at an Easter reception in the offices of Dungannon Council. The reception was organised for republican families in that area by the Sinn Fein Mayor. And I told the families that evening that we think of your loved ones, our loved ones, every day. Their spirits are with us in the daily battles and in every advance of our struggle.
The ghosts of your loved ones are with us in all of our meetings with the British government, with the Irish government, with unionist leaders, and others as we seek to make sense of chaos, and to build justice as the basis for peace. And that is the reality. What has been won, what is being won and what will be won in the time ahead will be because of your contribution, your fortitude and your great patience. It will be because of your inner strength. And for that my friends we thank you all. One IRA Volunteer spoke for all of us on this matter. He was a political activist, a poet, an MP, a political prisoner who knew your inner strength. He wrote:
``It is found in every light of hope,
It knows no bounds nor space,
It has risen in red and black and white,
It is there in every race.
It lies in the heart of heroes dead,
It screams in tyrants eyes,
It has reached the peak of mountains high,
It comes searing `cross the skies.
It lights the dark of this prison cell,
It thunders forth its might,
It is, the undauntable thought my friend,
That thought that says, I'm right!''
Friends, brothers and sisters, families of our republican heroes and heroines, thank you all for being right.
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