Airport medal detectors go wild for Irish Olympians
Scenes of joy and pride as athletes reunite with their family and friends
ALL attempts at holding back the tide were futile. At the sight of a lone bag-piper emerging from the bowels of Dublin Airport, a scene of organised chaos was unleashed in the arrivals hall.
Sisters rushed to hug brothers, daughters made a beeline for their fathers and boyfriends hunted out their beloveds among the unruly sea of green Special Olympics caps and T-shirts.
But Fergal Gregory -- at 12, the youngest of Team Ireland's 126 athletes -- was fastest out the door of arrivals and straight into the arms of his mum Aine.
"I missed my mammy," the young Crossmaglen athlete admitted shyly.
Fergal, who has Down Syndrome, proudly displayed the gold medal hanging around his neck for the 25-metre butterfly stroke competition.
"He had a brilliant experience over there," Aine said of the middle child of her five offspring.
"Everybody was so into it and they were sharing the feeling and the magic over there. He trains twice a week and it is a credit to his coaches and his mentors."
Similar tales of sporting triumph were being played out all over the arrivals hall as the athletes proudly toted their sensational 107-medal haul from 12 sports from the games in Athens, Greece.
Joyce Haughian (28), from the small town of Warrenpoint in Co Down, said it was the "best experience of my whole life, it was a dream come true to hold the medals".
The bowler hugged her mother Catherine and sister Fiona close as she displayed her batch of a gold medal and two silvers.
"Words won't describe how I really feel," Joyce, who bowls with City Strikers in Newry, said.
"I've dreamed of these for so long. To get gold and complete it -- it is phenomenal."
In a hushed tone, her mother Catherine revealed there was a surprise party organised at the Whistledown Hotel where Joyce does prep work in the kitchens.
The entire town was expected to turn out to welcome their local hero home.
"It is so much like they are finally being recognised for their abilities, they are very special people and work so hard at what they do and don't always get recognised," Catherine said of the Special Olympians.
And her daughter's party was just one of many planned to welcome the athletes home.
There were horse-drawn carriage trips around towns, banners on every street lamp, all -night parties and even civic receptions being organised for the medal winners.
Carole Ryan (19), from Newtown, Co Wexford, was still unaware there was a civic reception awaiting her this weekend in Wexford as she branded the games "brilliant".
But she has already set her sights on the Winter Games after nabbing two gold medals in gymnastics.
"We were over," her proud mother, Mary Ryan, said. "It was amazing, surreal.
"The biggest thing she won was hearts, everyone fell in love with her. On the podium you could see she was so proud and delighted with herself."
John Loughnane (29), from Ballinasloe, Co Galway, revealed he had a little bit of help from a new-found friend Freddie the horse in winning his silver and gold medals for the equestrian competitions.
Ruairi O'Toole (35) was still holding on tightly to the paddle he uses to train -- when the weather permits -- in the sea and rivers in Spiddal, Co Galway.
"We were there for everything. It was brilliant, I'm delighted we went over," said his proud father, Paddy O'Toole, after his son took a gold and silver in the kayaking.
"The 13 of us supporting and cheering pushed him over the finishing line."
In a matter of minutes, the homemade banners were neatly folded away, the Tricolours rolled up and the hundreds of chanting friends and family were on their way.
There were parties to get to.