Ireland pauses to remember sacrifices made during 1916 Easter Rising

One of the key commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising centenary has taken place with President Michael D Higgins honouring all those who fought and died for Irish freedom.

The weekend of celebrations began at midday with the head of state laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square in central Dublin to mark the sacrifices of patriot dead.

It is one in a series of specially choreographed events taking place over the next three days to remember the rebellion, a seminal moment in Irish history which sowed the seeds for independence.

Earlier Sabina Higgins, the President's wife, laid a wreath at the grave of Countess Constance Markievicz at Glasnevin Cemetery as official Ireland strives to make the commemorations more inclusive.

Over the decades the role of women in the Rising has often been overlooked, alongside the deaths of innocent children which were largely ignored until recent years.

In the Garden of Remembrance, the site where the Irish Volunteers was founded, an invited audience including Defence Forces' veterans, politicians and descendants of the rebels heard poetry, music and prayer to mark the occasion.

The Island of Ireland Peace Choir, formed as a symbol of reconciliation after the 1998 Real IRA Omagh bombing performed the traditional Irish song The Parting Glass at the event.

Muriel McAuley, granddaughter of rebel leader Thomas Mac Donagh, read an extract of evidence given by rebel leader Patrick Pearse at his court martial.

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny also attended with the ceremony brought to an end by a minute's silence, the playing of the Last Post and the national anthem Amhran na bhFiann and the hoisting of the Tricolour.

Later, the President will meet the families of those killed in the rebellion during a special event in the RDS.

In one of only a few public addresses over the next few days, Mr Higgins will speak about the debt of gratitude owed to the rebels immortalised in the history books as well as the "unsung heroes" who took to the streets one hundred years ago.

He is also expected to focus on the "human essence" of the rebellion reflecting on combatants' differing motivations as well as their influence in post-independence Ireland.

The Rising began on Easter Monday, April 24 1916 and while the week long battle was short-lived it sowed the seeds for a war of independence at the end of the decade. That led to partition of the country, civil war in the new Free State and ultimately the creation of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Some 1,350 people were killed or injured during the six-day insurrection while 3,430 men and 79 women were arrested by the British.

Fifteen of the rebel leaders including Patrick Pearse and James Connolly were executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, where another poignant tribute will be paid on Easter Sunday.

President Higgins will be in the Stone Breakers' Yard to lay a wreath on the site where the 1916 leaders were executed.

The biggest event of the weekend is due to take place on Easter Sunday when more than a quarter of a million people will line the streets for a massive parade through Dublin city centre.

Almost 4,000 members of the Defence Forces, emergency services and army veterans will weave their way along the 4.5 km route from St Stephen's Green to O'Connell Street and past the GPO on to Capel Street.

The unprecedented spectacle, which will include the reading of the Proclamation under the portico of the GPO is being billed as the largest public celebration in the history of the state.

Wreaths will also be laid in Glasnevin at the Sigerson Monument, which honours the dead of 1916, and at the graves of Edward Hollywood, a silk weaver from the Liberties in Dublin who put together the Tricolour in 1848, and the grave of Peadar Kearney, who wrote the lyrics to Amhran na bhFiann.

Further commemorations are planned for Easter Monday at each of the seven key battlefield sites in Dublin.

Cultural events are also being held in more than 200 venues across the city including 500 free talks, exhibitions, debates, film, performances and dramatisations, with six outdoor stages and activities for children and families.

Outside of Dublin simultaneous wreath laying ceremonies will take place in Athenry, Cork, Enniscorthy and Ashbourne.

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