Cahill was considered the father figure of modern republicanism

Thousands of people have lined the streets of west Belfast for the funeral of veteran Irish republican Joe Cahill.

Senior IRA and Sinn Fein figures are attending the funeral of the 84-year-old who died on Friday following a short illness.

A single piper walked ahead of his coffin which was draped in an Irish tricolour. It was carried at one point by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and party colleague Martin McGuinness.

A guard of honour was formed by men wearing black berets, whilst republican stewards dressed in white shirts and black ties lined the mile-long route to St John's Church on the Falls Road.

Cahill will be buried later at Milltown Cemetery.

He was named by the British army in the early 1970s as IRA chief of staff, at a time when the organisation was waging a campaign of bombings and shootings.

Cahill was sentenced to death for the murder of a policeman, but had his sentence commuted to life in 1942 after the intervention of the then Pope.

Born in Belfast in 1920, Joe Cahill dedicated much of his life fighting partition.

In 1969, he was a key figure in founding the Provisional IRA and was Belfast commander before becoming chief of staff.

He was released from prison in the 1950s but in 1973, he was again jailed for gun-running after being convicted of importing weapons from Libya.

While he was widely regarded as a hero in republican circles, to the unionist and Protestant community he was despised for directing the republican campaign of violence.

In later years, when the peace process was in its infancy, his support for the leadership of Gerry Adams was critical to persuading many republican doubters both in Northern Ireland and in the United States.

In 1998, Cahill urged republicans to endorse the Good Friday Agreement and he was an honorary life vice-president of Sinn Fein.

Cahill worked in the Belfast shipyard of Harland and Wolff between 1950-51 after being released from prison.

Last year, he announced he was suing the shipbuilders because he was suffering from asbestosis.

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