Royal Mail backs down and paints postbox gold to honour Smyth
BRIAN TOLAN paints postboxes, but it's not often he has a crowd watching him work. But yesterday was no ordinary job.
He was painting the red postbox in the home village of Paralympian star Jason Smyth.
And given Smyth's incredible achievement in retaining his 100m and 200m sprint titles at the London Games, there was only ever going to be one final colour: gold.
However, the decision by the Royal Mail was not straightforward. Initially, they refused because Smyth had represented Ireland and not Britain.
However, following protests from the villagers in Eglinton in Derry, the Royal Mail relented.
Among the villagers who watched as Mr Tolan applied the paint was Smyth's grandfather Robert Smyth.
"It's a great honour. Jason is a dual medal winner and a dual passport holder and nationality has never been an issue for him.
"Team Ireland won eight gold medals at the Paralympics and five of those gold medals came to Northern Ireland."
During the Troubles, Eglinton was a safe haven for police families who moved there from Derry. Most of the officers still live in the predominantly Unionist village.
The Royal Mail painter said he felt under no pressure painting the letterbox gold under the gaze of the villagers and photographers.
"There are 2,500 Royal Mail boxes in Northern Ireland and it's a great privilege to paint the first gold one. Jason did absolutely fantastic at the Games," he said.
"It's next stop Seaford for Bethany Firth and then Glengormley for Michael McKillop," he added.
Meanwhile, Smyth will return to his home village, following his appearance on last night's 'Late Late Show', for a welcome home parade this afternoon.
The next big date on Smyth's calendar is his wedding day on December 29 when he marries his fiancee Elise Jordan in the US.