Huge crowd welcomes Special Olympics heroes home
Team Ireland arrived home from the Special Olympics to a rousing welcome at Dublin Airport where they showed off their impressive haul of 82 medals.
A huge crowd of well-wishers crammed into Terminal 2 from early this morning to greet the team after their remarkable success at the games in Los Angeles.
Aer Lingus also laid on a special welcoming reception for the athletes who were cheered to the roof as they stepped into arrivals.
Their plane from New York was initially due in at 8am but was delayed by more than two hours.
However, that didn't dampen the carnival-like atmosphere among the hundreds of family members and friends of the athletes from all over the country from sharing the joy.
They sang, they cheered and they burst into sporadic choruses of "Ole, Ole, Ole" as they waited for the heroes to return.
They finally arrived just before 11am, with 26 gold medals, 28 silver and 28 bronze.
A piper announced the arrival of the team off flight EI 108.
They had shone in all 12 sports they featured in, and Sport Minister Pascal Donohoe had a special message of praise for the athletes.
"A big welcome home to Team Ireland who performed so well at the Special Olympics World Games," he said.
"I know every member of the team trained very hard and we are all proud of them."
Laura Mangan (29), from Drumcondra, proudly showed off the gold medal she won in basketball.
"It was a fantastic experience and I saw my sister and mum in the crowd on the way in, but there's so many people here I haven't had a chance to talk to them yet," she said.
"We worked hard and I never thought I'd win a medal, never mind a gold, so I'm absolutely delighted."
Megan Reynolds (20), from Blackrock, was also brandishing a gold medal for basketball.
"I got a basket in the games too, so it's very special," she said.
Megan plays with the Blackrock Fliers team and had her own very proud welcoming committee when she landed in Dublin.
"We're all bursting with pride and delighted for her, her team and all the athletes," proud grandmother Joyce Sullivan told the Herald.
One man who stood out from the crowd was Keith Butler (23), from Walkinstown. At over 6ft he was a gold winner in aquatics.
"I won in the 800 metres, but I also came fifth in the 1,500 metres so I'm ninth in the world now," he said.
"But I'm really only following in my mother's footsteps. Her name before she married was Anne Leonard and she was a table tennis champion."
The arrivals hall was heaving with winners, their families, club members and other supporters after the homecoming.
The long journeys home to the four corners of Ireland began immediately as the celebrations spread across the country to welcoming committees in towns and villages.
Speaking in the wake of what was a hugely successful games, Special Olympics CEO Matt English said that so much work goes into preparing a team for competition on the world sporting stage.
"So many of our athletes recorded personal best performances as well as medal wins," he said.
"But we are equally proud of all our athletes regardless of whether they return home with medals or not."