Thousands flock to the funeral of Joe Cahill to bid the veteran republican patriot a fitting farewell

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West Belfast came to a standstill this week as Belfast’s most senior veteran republican was laid to rest in a manner befitting the man who has been credited as the father of modern republicanism.

A lone piper and the crunch of marching feet was the only audible sound as the funeral cortege emerged from Joe’s Andersonstown Crescent home.
Thousands of people followed the cortege as it made its way along the Andersonstown Road.

Not since Joe’s former friend and comrade Tom Williams’ reinterment in 2000 had such a massive funeral taken place.

Joe had been sentenced to death along with Tom Williams in 1942. Joe escaped the hangman’s noose and was instead given a life sentence. He often spoke emotionally of the day his friend was taken to the death cell in Crumlin Road jail.

The funeral cortege continued to increase in size as the thousands more people who were lining the route fell in behind the veteran republican’s funeral.

A guard of honour flanked the Tricolour-draped coffin as the funeral passed Andersonstown Barracks and slowly followed the route to St John’s Church.

It took over an hour for the coffin to reach the doors of the church, with the huge cortege continuing to grow in numbers as it went.

People of all ages lined the route bowing their heads in respect as the coffin passed.

Children born after the ceasefire that Joe Cahill helped secure stood on walls and were lifted by their parents to see the funeral pass.

One mother leant down and said to her young son, “One day you will tell your own children that you were at Joe Cahill’s funeral.”

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, a close friend of Joe’s ,helped carry the coffin.

Other Sinn Féin representatives including Martin McGuinness, Bairbre de Brún, Martin Ferris, Michelle Gildernew as well as the recently-elected Mary Lou McDonald were also in the funeral crowd.

Fr Des Wilson and Fr Gerry Reynolds – who both knew Joe Cahill personally – celebrated Requiem Mass.

“Joe followed an Irish political and moral tradition which has its own carefully and scrupulously worked out system of moral values,” said Fr Des.

“For him, war was not a first choice.

“For him and for all the people of his tradition war is a last resort, not a first one.

“A last resort which can be engaged in only when all other means to obtain justice have been tried and have failed.

“This is indeed a noble tradition among republican people in Ireland.”
Joe Cahill was born in Belfast in 1920, a year before partition.

He had often said, “I was born in a united Ireland, I want to die in a united Ireland.”

It was with this in mind that Joe had dedicated his life to the republican struggle.

And although he didn’t achieve his dream, he was instrumental in bringing the IRA to the point where a ceasefire was deemed possible.

Fr Des added: “The last years of his life were spent helping to open the way towards a peace and stability such as we have never enjoyed before.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

“It is a pity Joe did not live long enough to see his vision of a new Ireland become a full reality.”

With the Mass over, the coffin left the chapel and was once again greeted by a crowd of thousands who lined the route, blessing themselves as the veteran republican made his final journey to Milltown Cemetery.

Joe’s wife Annie walked behind her husband’s coffin carrying a single white rose.

Fr Reynolds led prayers at the graveside and a wreath-laying ceremony then took place with Gerry Campbell laying a wreath on behalf of the National Graves Association and Siobhan O’Hanlon on behalf of the Cahill family.

Wreaths from the GHQ and Belfast Brigade of Oglaigh na hEireann were also laid.

Gerry Adams made a heartfelt oration mentioning one of the last conversations he had with Joe on his sick bed.

The Cahill family were visibly moved by the tribute.

Frances Black then sang The Bold Fenian Men as Joe Cahill was led to rest in Milltown Cemetery.

Journalist:: Allison Morris

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