Celebration time as Olympic heroes enjoy golden homecoming
Their delight was writ large all over their faces as a victorious Team Ireland arrived home to a rapturous welcome.
But while the celebrations began at Dublin Airport early yesterday morning, they continued long into the night at homes and community centres the length and breadth of the country.
From Antrim and Armagh down to Kerry and Cork, and from Clare and Galway to Wicklow and Dublin, as well as everywhere in between, the homecomings, toasts and singing were legendary.
A huge crowd of well-wishers crammed into Terminal 2 from 7am to greet the team after their remarkable success at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles during which they won 82 medals.
Despite a two-hour delay to their flight, the carnival atmosphere continued as the crowd cheered and burst into sporadic choruses of "Olé. Olé, Olé".
But the decibel level reached ear-splitting heights as the first members of Team Ireland strode through the doors.
Laura Mangan (29), from Drumcondra in Dublin, 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 in Dublin, 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.
"We're all bursting with pride and delighted for her, her team and all the athletes," said her grandmother Joyce Sullivan.
One hero who made his way back up to Letterkenny, Co Donegal, last night was Patrick Quinlivan who collected an incredible four medals in gymnastics.
The 33-year-old won a silver medal in vault and three bronze medals in the horizontal bar, rings and parallel bars.
"I'm aching with pride. I'm definitely proud to be an Irishman," he said.
Meanwhile, gymnastics gold medallist Laura Ahern from Glanmire, Co Cork, was welcomed home with flowers and a banner by her delighted family.
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