On Easter Sunday, March 27th 2016, 50 volunteer members and staff of the RNLI were asked to take part in the national Easter Parade which formed part of the state centenary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising. Volunteers from all over the country were invited to take part and I was lucky enough to be one of them.
There was an air of excitement as we arrived at the RNLI Divisional Base in Swords at 7am on Easter Sunday – and also an air of tiredness as the clocks had gone forward in the early hours depriving us of that crucial extra hour of sleep ahead of our early alarm call! Nonetheless everyone was happy to be there and to be part of one of the biggest state events the country had ever seen. We were briefed by Owen and then it was time to get changed into our gear – some wore just shirts/jackets and trousers while the rest of us wore the familiar yellow branded drysuits with the famous yellow wellies and lifejackets.
At 8am, the Dublin Bus that was to bring us to the Phoenix Park where all the emergency services were gathering, arrived at the base – we all piled on and the mood was jubilant as we made our way towards Europe’s largest walled park. On Chesterfield Avenue, we pulled up behind our Irish Coast Guard colleagues and were soon to be joined by the Civil Defence. Members of the Gardai and the National Ambulance Service had already arrived at this point. An early lunch was handed out to us (it was very early – it was 09:20am!!) and the crew waited between the bus and outside, where despite the sunny day it was extremely cold.
We were accompanied by a liaison officer from the Irish Defence Forces at all times who kept us up to date and offered any advice that we needed. As we were in the middle of our briefing before we set off for the city at 10, the Garda motorcycles that would accompany President Higgins to Kilmainham Jail later in the morning whizzed past us with sirens blaring as they made their way to Aras An Uachtaráin just a short distance away.
Back on the bus we made our way under Garda escort into the city along the quays, arriving eventually at our holding position of the Fish Market at Mary’s Lane where the waiting began. The waiting and the queueing! All of the state emergency services representatives were gathered here with large but patient and jovial queues for the toilets and the coffee stand. For most people, going to the toilet was just as normal. For others us of us who were wearing full kit that didn’t have a zip – well that was a bit more difficult! Luckily there was plenty of time to get sorted and then get into the formation in which we would march a little while later.
Eventually it was time to move and as the president was arriving on O’Connell Street and the official ceremony was about to start, we were making our way under Garda escort to our main holding position near High Street as we waited to join the rest of the parade. Another waiting period ensued as we held position waiting for go. Thanks to the RTE Player we were able to keep an eye on proceedings across the Liffey though somehow (and I’m still not sure how), I still managed to miss the Aer Corps flypast. Passersby came to talk to us and have their photos taken as we waited and soon it was time to move.
We made our way onto High Street where our inshore lifeboat and support vehicles were waiting for us, alongside those of the Irish Coast Guard. It was then that the enormity of the event really began to hit home. As we had walked from the fish market towards High Street, there had been a small crowd of people to watch. As we turned the corner we could literally see thousands and thousands of people on the parade route. Then the cheers started. And they didn’t stop until we reached the end of the route almost two hours later. Real genuine applause, cheers and support for the RNLI which was heartening to experience.
At this point I want to pay credit to the Defence Forces for their organisation of the parade. This was their gig and they did an amazing job. I knew there were going to be big screens dotted along the route – I didn’t know they were going to be as big as a house! We could constantly hear the MC describing what was happening as we were walking. Again it took a few minutes for me to realise that this MC was based at the GPO and the audio was being fed by tannoys the whole way from O’Connell Street – a logistical nightmare no doubt but well executed with the help of some satellite dish points along the route. The MC, a member of the Defence Forces, was excellent. Very easy to listen to and well prepped.
We made our way down Dame Street, again to more supportive applause and cheering from the assembled crowd, which continued as we moved towards Trinity College, Westmoreland Street and O’Connell Bridge. It was then almost our turn to shine as we continued our march (we were getting very good at it by that point!) and got as far as the GPO where we knew the world was watching either on TV or online.
The sun shone down on us as we walked past the viewing stand packed with government ministers, former President Mary McAleese and former President Mary Robinson as well of course as Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his wife Finola and President Higgins and his wife Sabina.
The one thing about wearing bright yellow was that we knew we would stand out. And stand out we did in the great sunshine!
As we made our way to the end of the parade route, the support continued and despite being in the perfect outfits if the rain were to come, we still didn’t want that to happen. But rain it did as we turned left after North Frederick Street, the rain came down… and kept coming. It was not to dampen our spirits or those of the spectators who kept up the applause as we neared the end of the parade.
And then we were done. A handshake with our Defence Forces liaison officer to thank him for his work and assistance and back on the bus we got – to relax, remove some of the clothing and to check the numerous “we saw you on the TV!” messages on our Facebook walls.
It’s a day that we were proud to take part in, proud to be Irish, proud to remember the sacrifices of our forefathers in 1916 and a day that none of us will forget for many years to come. Huge thanks to Owen, Niamh, Jen, Emma and Declan at RNLI Divisional Base in Swords for making it all happen.