Catholics and Protestants joined in filling two "peace trains" Saturday to protest an IRA bombing campaign against the rail link between Dublin and Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.
The Irish Republican Army, which has disrupted service on the rail line more than 60 times in the past year with bombs and bomb threats, promised to let the day pass peacefully."People right across the community are making a point and the point is this - that this railway link between north and south must be kept open. It is vital to our island," said Bishop Samuel Poyntz of the Protestant Church of Ireland, who saw the train riders off in Belfast.
Roman Catholic Bishop Cahal Daly of Northern Ireland was also at the station as the trains left Dublin, each with about 400 riders aboard. Hundreds more were turned away for lack of seats.
"This is a message the IRA cannot refuse to hear, because it is coming from working and middle-class people, young and old, who are not going to allow communication in this island to be stopped," Daly said.
In a statement reported Friday by Press Association, Britain's domestic news agency, the mainly Catholic IRA said it would "resume occasional attacks when we see fit.
"These attacks are not aimed at closing it down but to force British soldiers into painstaking and dangerous operations," said the statement by the IRA, which is fighting to unite the Protestant-dominated British province with the Republic of Ireland, which is predominantly Catholic.
No one has been killed or seriously injured in the campaign against the railroad line, and the major impact has been to depress business on what, until recently, was the only public transport link between the two capitals.
The rail line now has competition from a daily bus service.
When the two special trains pulled into Dublin's Connolly Station, they were greeted by Ireland's Post Office Workers Union Band playing "Congratulations."
The only sign of opposition was at the border station of Newry where supporters of Sinn Fein, the IRA's legal political wing, carried banners calling for British withdrawal from Northern Ireland.
"The `peace train' concept has brought together people of different political opinions from all walks of life, north and south," said Proinsias De Rossa, a passenger on the train and leader of the Workers' Party, which broke away from Sinn Fein and the IRA 20 years ago.