FROM well before 7am yesterday they began descending on the University of Limerick.
When it was announced earlier this year that the 14th Dalai Lama would be speaking in Limerick, all 3,100 precious passes to secure entry for yesterday's event were snapped up.
The spiritual leader of Tibet was not due at the university arena until after 10am, but enthusiasm and smiles abounded in the hours beforehand as all eagerly awaited his arrival and wisdom.
Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte and his son-in-law John McAreavey had made the 700km round trip to be there and were among the first to be seated. Guiding them to their seats was world-renowned sports physical therapist Ger Hartmann.
Those around them remembered Michaela Harte -- Mickey's daughter and John's wife -- who was murdered while on honeymoon in Mauritius in January. The two men warmly embraced all who greeted them.
Just a few seats away was Mary Geoghegan, whose son, Shane, was murdered in Limerick in 2008. She sat patiently alongside her other son, Anthony.
Southill parish priest Fr Pat Hogan was also in attendance along with the Moyross-based monks -- the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal -- and the former Bishop of Limerick, Dr Donal Murray.
And Limerick being Limerick, there were plenty of rugby players, too, including former Munster and Irish stars Gerry 'Ginger' McLoughlin and Keith Wood.
It was Richard Moore of 'Children in Crossfire' who had, through his long association with the university, made yesterday possible.
In the front row, a seat was reserved for Charles Inness -- the British soldier who shot and blinded a 10-year-old Richard in Derry in 1972.
Possibly for the first time since the sports arena opened, silence fell over the spectators as a variety of religious chants, recitations and melodies were performed.
At 10.15am, a frisson of excitement rippled through the crowd and all eyes were cast toward the windows as the sound of the approaching helicopter grew louder.
The Dalai Lama landed in the university's main sport's field and UL president Don Barry was the first to greet him. In return, the 76-year-old placed a 'kata' -- a white silk scarf -- around his neck. Mr Barry later explained that the kata symbolises happiness, forgiveness and love -- themes of the day.
Crossing the running track on the way to the arena, the Dalai Lama paused briefly to avoid stepping on an earthworm. In Buddhism, animal life is regarded as being on the same level as human life.
Tibet's spiritual leader has been greeted with standing ovations since his arrival in Ireland, but the best was saved for the last day of his visit as he made his entrance.
Adults smiled and clapped, while children waved and jumped up and down as he walked slowly on to the stage.
His close friend Richard Moore spoke briefly, but sparked the most memorable image of the day when he welcomed Charles Innes, the former British soldier who shot and blinded him in Derry almost 40 years ago. Mr Moore had later sought him out and the two became friends.
In a powerful embrace, the Dalai Lama, Mr Moore and Mr Innes clasped their hands together to the delight of all.
To another standing ovation, the Dalai Lama encouraged all "not to give up hope".
"We must recognise each other as human beings, yes different faces, different colours and different nationalities . . . but funda-mentally we are all the same."
He advised that the ultimate source of peace of mind was inner peace and warned that wealth and status do not bring happiness.
Pupils from Maria King Presentation Primary School, Galvone National School and St Mary's Boy School will never forget his visit as they sang a specially composed song entitled 'Forgiveness is a Gift'. In appreciation, the Dalai Lama shook hands and spoke with the young singers to yet more applause.
With hands clasped and a final bow to all, the Dalai Lama was whisked to Shannon Airport by garda escort for a flight abroad.
Afterwards, all spoke of how touched and inspired they were by his words.
Mickey Harte -- a man who has endured the deaths of his daughter and two brothers over the past few months -- said the thoughts of the Dalai Lama were relevant to all.
"I think it showed the power of compassion can be of benefit to all of us. He is a world-renowned holy man and it is good to be in the company of such people," he said.
"Nobody could come out of here and not feel enrichened from the experience because, in many ways, the message is simple but often we miss the most simple of messages.
"The message that he talked about was smile, be compassionate, reach out to others, respect every individual, respect all religions, be the best that you can be as a person and work on yourself and things around you get better.
"If 3,100 of us go away and do something a little bit better than we did yesterday, then it has been a very worthwhile task by the Dalai Lama.
"I have got a realisation of what it takes to have inner peace -- take a look at yourself and not at things outside."
Those are precious words we can all heed.