Saturday 22 July 2017

Belfast bedecked with tricolours as 'Olé, Olé, Olé' rings out at City Hall

John Mulgrew

BOXING young guns Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan were given an uproarious welcome as thousands lined the streets of Belfast yesterday to see the newly-crowned Olympic medalists tour the city on an open-top bus.

While they may not be the biggest in stature, the pair's huge personalities and triumphs in the ring during the London Games have earned them the public's overwhelming respect.

As the sun baked down yesterday, fans and tourists flocked to catch a glimpse of the men -- and the medals.

Starting from outside St Anne's Cathedral and parading down Royal Avenue -- the city's busy shopping thoroughfare -- dressed in green, Paddy and Michael waved vigorously, their bronze medals hanging proudly around their necks.

Many of the lunchtime brigade idling around the city put their sandwiches aside and followed the open-top bus to its final destination.

Arriving at Belfast City Hall, the boxers were met with roars and cheers -- Irish flags aloft, media strewn across the street and echoing chants of 'Olé, Olé, Olé' reverberating around the heart of the city.

Then, as the champagne was popped, the two bronze medalists stood victorious at the back of the coach as the booming cheers intensified below. With the dazzling and weighty bronze medal hanging proudly around his neck, Michael Conlan (20) said the day had been "non-stop" -- but the crowds and fans had been "unreal".

"The support -- I can't believe it. We didn't know what there would be and we came back here to see an audience like this, it's fantastic," he added.

As for his ever-burgeoning fame and popularity in his home city, Michael said he "loves it".


"It's great to be recognised for something like this. I'm proud to be bringing this back."

Also embracing the countless fans and well-wishers was Paddy Barnes (25) -- the north Belfast man's second time returning to the city as an Olympic medalist after taking his first bronze at the Beijing Games in 2008.

"I really can't describe it, I can't. There are more people this time, which is great. Family and friends have turned out -- and tourists," he said.

After accompanying his son throughout his journey to that second medal, Paddy Barnes snr said it was "finally great to be back home".

"It's great to be back in my own bed -- and it's great to see people getting so much enjoyment out of it," he added.

Paddy's mother Ellen -- who watched anxiously on in London through all of Paddy's fights alongside her husband -- said she was "over the moon" and was never worried seeing her son fighting in the ring.

"I really couldn't be any prouder. He's so well trained -- I'm not worried. He knows what he's doing," she added.

Irish Independent

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