Tens of thousands of Northern Ireland's Roman Catholics turned out in a cold rain for the slow, military-style funeral procession of Provisional Irish Republican Army militant Bobby Sands, whom they added to the long list of martyrs to Irish nationalism.
The violence that broke out in Catholic neighborhoods after Sands' death subsided on the day of his funeral.
After an emotional requiem mass in his family's parish church, where the priest prayed for an end to violence, Sands' body was escorted by masked men in paramilitary uniform along three miles of streets thickly lined with people of all ages to an IRA cemetery plot. At one point along the way they fired volleys of rifle shots over the casket.
The crowds included many people wearing signs of mourning and a number holding plastic boxes of funeral flowers to add to the many wreaths laid at the mass and burial.
By dying of a 66-day hunger strike demanding political prisoner status for convicted IRA terrorists in prisons here, Sands, who was elected a member of the British Parliament four weeks ago, "has gone to join the ranks of Irish patriotic dead," said the militant Irish nationalist orator at his burial alongside the graves of more than 200 other IRA "volunteers" in Milltown Cemetery on a bleak hillside in West Belfast.
Two miles away, in front of the Belfast city hall, several thousand Protestants attended a rival memorial service for victims of IRA violence. Wreaths also were laid at a civic war memorial there.
"The world focuses its attention on an IRA gunman in prison who committed suicide," militant Protestant politician Ian Paisley, an Ulster Unionist member of Parliament, told the gathering, which included relatives of IRA victims. "Those we remember had no choice."
Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Humphrey Atkins, in a television address appealing for an end to violence on the day of Sands' funeral, said "We shall shortly see and should give no less publicity to the funeral of police constable Philip Ellis," shot dead in an ambush in Belfast last night. Atkins said the bereaved Ellis and Sands families "can surely not be the only two who realize tht there can be no worthwhile dividend in terrorism."
In last night's violence a youth died when the bomb he was carrying exploded. Mobs attacked police with gasoline bombs and rocks in several Catholic neighborhoods, and five persons were wounded by bullets.
At Sands' funeral, the Rev. Lyam Mullan also told mourners, "As we pray for Bobby Sands, let us pray for all the people of our country who have died in the troubles that began in 1969."
"In this present tense situation, we must be aware of the common ground which exists" between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Mullan said.
"We are all Christians. Surely, to God, we are all Christians."
Recalling the poignant public plea of Sands' mother, Rosaleen, that her son's death should not be the occasion for fighting, Mullan said, "Let us each do what we can to preserve the peace. The burden of guilt for our problems must fall on both sides and the burden of solving our problems must be widely shared."
The circular, modern St. Luke's Church in the Twinbrook Catholic housing project on the edge of West Belfast where Sands' parents live was filled to overflowing with about 1,500 people, while thousands more waited outside. Man were local families, while others were cadres of young men from elsewhere in Northern Ireland and the neighboring Republic of Ireland. They obviously included IRA members and sympathizers, who organized today's funeral procession and burial.
Leading the mournes were Sands' father, mother two sisters and a brother, and his 7-year-old son; Gerald, who has been living with Sands' estranged wife in Birmingham, England. Sitting with the family was Neil Blaney, a militant nationalist politician in the Republic of Ireland and a member of the European Parliament.
One of the priests at the mass, the Rev. Sean Rogan, whose life has been threatened by the IRA in the past, said before the funeral that giving Sands the full rites of the church "available to all members of the parish" was not an endorsement of the IRA.
"We condemn violence and do not condone para-military organizations," he said. No one was allowed into the church in paramilitary uniform, and the tricolor flag and IRA black beret and gloves on Sands' coffin at all other times today were removed while it was inside the church.
Once outside, the coffin was carried by six masked men in paramilitary uniform, commanded by another, to the hearse that took it through the winding streets to the cemetery. It was preceded by two bagpipers and an IRA bugler, followed by the crowd outside the church and accompanied by hundreds of journalists from all over the world.
The procession detoured around the Protestant neighborhood of Suffolk, which was shielded by Army trucks and a huge canvas barrier, behind which could be seen police and Army armored vehicles. Army helicopters circled noisily overhead during the entire procession.
In the middle of the Catholic neighborhood of Andersonstown halfway to the cemetery, the procession stopped and the casket was briefly removed from the hearse.With rifles quickly smuggled to them through the crowd, the men in paramilitary uniforms fired the ceremonial volleys that are an important part of the symbolism at IRA funerals.
At the cemetery, Jerry Adams, vice chairman of Provisional Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, and reportedly and IRA commander, told the crowd of several thousand massed around the IRA burial plot that "we are here to pay tribute to Bobby Sands, Irish Republican Army volunteer, political prisoner and elected representative of Fermanagh and South Tyrone," the majority Catholic district on the Irish border in which Sands won a vacant parliamentary seat in absentia April 9.
"We had ordinary, plain people of Ireland come out today and show their solidarity with Bobby Sands and their solidarity with the political prisoners," Adams said.
Sands' election agent, Owen Curran, said in the burial oration that Sands' death was a "cruel murder in the H Blocks" of the Maze Prison outside Belfast that "will mark a watershed in Irish history." To strong applause from much of the crowd, he added that Sands "symbolizes the determination of the whole Irish nation, which has never surrendered and never will. Today we repledge ourselves to drive England from our soil." a
Sands was the 13th militant Irish nationalist, the majority of the IRA members, to die of a hunger strike protesting treatment by the British or Irish governments since Ireland won independence in 1920 while Northern Ireland, with its majority of Protestants descended from Scottish colonists, remained part of Britain. Sands, 27, who spent a third of his life in prison on robbery and gun possession convictions, was the first to die in Northern Ireland.
Three more IRA prisoners remain on hunger strike in the Maze Prison. Convicted murderer Francis Hughes, who has not eaten for 53 days, is reported to be very weak. The other two stopped eating 47 days ago.
Because the British government refuses to grant the hunger strikers and other convicted terrorists political prisoner status, the upsurge of violence that began with Sands' death is expected to continue despite a relative lull today in which the most serious disturbances occurred in Londonderry.
Ulster residents were warned today that the police believe prominent citizens may have been targeted for attack by the IRA.