| 10°C Dublin

A gold standard homecoming awaits our returning heroes

THE most successful Irish Paralympic team in the last quarter of a century will arrive home tomorrow evening, laden down with medals, to a heroes' welcome at Dublin Airport.

And that will be followed by more celebrations in their home places and by receptions by the Government and the President.

The team, which has won eight gold, three silver and three bronze, and which featured athletes like double gold winners cyclist Mark Rohan and runner Jason Smyth will fly into Dublin Airport at 7pm where there will be a media reception and they will be welcomed back by Minister Michael Ring on behalf of the Government.

The team will meet their supporters, family and friends when they make their ent-rance at the arrivals hall of Terminal 1 at around 8.15pm.

"This traditional homecoming will be the opportunity for the public who have shown such wonderful support to the team to congratulate and salute their Paralympic heroes.

"Paralympics Ireland and the Irish team are very grateful for the offer by the Government and City Council of a homecoming event similar to that held for the Olympic team, but would instead prefer to meet well wishers upon their airport return," said Irish team chef de mission Liam Harbison.

"By the time the team return they will have been away from home, their families and, in many cases, their work for a full month. So while they are grateful for the offer of a homecoming event they would prefer to meet the public who have supported them at the airport on Monday evening, and further celebrate their achievements publicly in their local communities."

Many of the athletes are hoping to compete at the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016. Ireland has participated in every single paralympics since the first one in Rome in 1960.

Its most successful year was in 1984 when the team brought home 66 medals.

As well as the homecoming at Dublin Airport, the the Irish team and their families will be celebrated and honoured by the Government at a reception hosted by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Farmleigh next Friday, September 14. They will also be honoured on Monday, October 22, at a reception in Aras on Uachtarain hosted by President Michael D Higgins.

They will also receive warm welcomes in celebrations planned in their home communities. One such event will be in Gorey for the homecoming celebrations for Darragh McDonald, Paralympic gold Medalist in the 400m freestyle swimming.

McDonald, 18, is a Leaving Cert student at Gorey Community School, the biggest school in the country. On Tuesday next the entire school population and hundreds of parents will line the school route to welcome home their hero.

A cavalcade led by an open- topped red car will be driven along the avenue to the school serenaded by the cheers of his fellow flag-waving students.

"Life at the school over the past 10 days has been electrified by the astonishing achievements of one of its most inspiring students. Darragh with his gold medal beams from the many super-size posters and screens which are placed around the school campus," a spokesman said.

Double gold medal winner Mark Rohan's homecoming will take place on Tuesday night in his home village of Ballinahown, Co Westmeath.

Sunday Independent