**Tom Williams and Joe Cahill

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20 January 2000

By Laura Friel

Outside St. Paul's Chapel, mourners pressed forward as Joe Cahill and Liam Shannon gently unfolded a Tricolour over the coffin carrying Tom Williams' remains. For many in the crowd it was a significant moment. Tom Williams was not only home but welcomed by those who knew and loved him best. At the behest of the family, this was not a republican funeral but in the event it was a funeral fit for a republican.

It had been shortly before 11am, Wednesday, 19 January, with crowds of people beginning to gather. Outside traffic came to a standstill as hundreds of mourners continued to arrive. By 11am, the chapel was full to capacity, many people standing along the aisles, filling every available space and still the crowd spilled out into the street and beyond.

And everyone was there. Family, friends, and comrades, young and old. Contemporaries of Tom Williams, now in their 60s and 70s years, a poignant reminder of the passage of time between Tom's execution and this day's funeral mass. Joe Cahill, Tom's cell mate and John Oliver, sentenced to death with Tom but later reprieved. Madge McConville, who had been arrested with Tom, Greta McGlone, Billy McKee, Eddie Keenan and perhaps least known, Nell Morgan, Tom's girlfriend at the time of his death.

Members of Belfast's National Graves Association, who campaigned so long and hard for Tom Williams' remains to be released from Crumlin Road jail, attended - Liam Shannon, Tony Curry, Ann Murray and Frank Glenholmes. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was accompanied by senior members of the party and local Councillors Tom Hartley, Ita Grey, Michael Brown, Michael Ferguson and Belfast Deputy Mayor Marie Moore.

Nationalists and republicans, too young to know Tom personally but who have grown up with the story of Tom Williams on their lips. School children who interrupted their studies to pay tribute to a brave Irish patriot and younger still, a woman comforts a crying toddler, beyond understanding now but one day she will listen to her mother recount this moment.

During the mass, Father Patrick O'Donnell from Clonard drew an analogy from the story of the prodigal son: ``He that was lost has been found. Tom has come home again to his people, his community.'' Fr. O'Donnell recalled the first mass said for Tom ``an hour and a half after his death in prison near to the place of his execution. His comrades were the congregation and the priest conducting the mass broke down and the mass was finished by another.''

Fr. O'Donnell pointed out that Tom Williams had been baptised, taken his first holy communion and made his confirmation at St. Paul's. He said as he walked along Bombay Street, where Tom had lived with his Granny Fay, he often thought of Tom. ``When I see young lads playing football, I remember Tom was once one of these children playing here in this street.'' Fr. O'Donnell said Tom's Granny Fay had taught him to love his country - ``she was a strong Irish woman herself.''

As a teenager, a fire began to burn in Tom's young heart, said the priest. ``He was aware of the wrongs inflicted on his country and decided to right those wrongs.'' But Tom's ``greatest moment'' was at his condemnation to death. Fr. O'Donnell recounted the moment when five of the six men condemned to die were reprieved but Tom was still to be executed. ``Do not grieve for me,'' said Tom to his comrades. ``It is amazing so young a lad could at such a moment speak so well and from his heart.''

Fr. O'Donnell described a prayer card written by Tom to his family and friends just prior to his execution. ``Pray for the cause for which I am dying, God save Ireland.'' The mass was concelebrated by Monsignor Raymond Murray.

As tens of hundreds of mourners followed the Tricolour-draped coffin, hundreds of people lining the route from the chapel to Milltown cemetery further swelled the ranks of the cortege. It soon became clear that this would be remembered as one of the largest funerals ever to take place in West Belfast. More people waited at the cemetery gates as the funeral procession slowly made its way along the Falls Road.

Inside the graveyard, the final moments were reserved for Tom's comrades and friends, who carried his coffin from the hearse to its resting place at the grave of Tom's mother. A few hundred yards away, the republican plot reserved for Tom Williams for so many years remains empty but Belfast's nationalist community had ensured that the funeral of an Irish patriot did not pass unmarked.


Speaking shortly after the funeral of Tom Williams, National Graves Association spokesperson Liam Shannon said: ``Today's funeral and burial of Tom Williams is the end of a campaign which has spanned over 50 years. The National Graves Association has been at the forefront of this campaign and is proud that our efforts have contributed significantly to securing the reburial of Tom Williams in Milltown Cemetery.

``In addition to the funeral service today, the National Graves Association is organising a commemoration event this Sunday. The parade will leave Clonard Street at 1pm and proceed along the Falls Road to Milltown Cemetery. A number of people will speak at the commemoration, including Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Joe Cahill, who was sentenced along with Tom Williams.

``This commemoration will be a dignified and fitting tribute to the important role which Tom Williams played in the struggle for a free and independent Ireland. It will afford republican communities across the island the chance to pay tribute to the life of Tom Williams. We would appeal to people across the island but particularly here in Belfast to mobilise in large numbers for Sunday.'' of the National Graves Association and Honorary Sinn Féin Vice President Joe Cahill in front of a portrait of the late Tom Williams in the Felons' Club

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