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Saturday 16 December 2017

Too little, too late as President claims Coe for Ireland

John Armitt,
Coe, Michael
D Higgins
and his wife
Sabina in
Olympic Development Authority chairman John Armitt, Sebastian Coe, Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina in London yesterday
Mr Coe celebrates at the 1984 Olympic Games

Shane Hickey in London

THE medal cabinet could have looked so different. President Michael D Higgins yesterday presented four-time Olympic medal-winner Sebastian Coe with a certificate celebrating his Irish heritage -- and lamented at what could have been.

The famed British middle-distance runner, who won 1,500m Olympic gold in 1980 and 1984 and also set 11 world records, was honoured with the presentation by the President in the Olympic stadium in East London.

Mr Coe's maternal great-grandfather was Edwin Swan, an artist from Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny.

Mr Higgins alluded to what might have been for Irish athletics, had Mr Coe competed for Ireland instead of our nearest neighbours.

"If we had discovered this before 1980, our store of gold medals would have been different," he said.

Mr Coe is chairman of the Olympics' organising committee. Accepting the certificate, he said that when he told Pat Hickey -- the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland -- of his ancestry some 15 years ago, the reaction was not quite so diplomatic.

"I long cherish the expletive that came from Pat's mouth when I told him," Mr Coe said.

Yesterday was the second day of Mr Higgins's working visit to London, where he is meeting members of the Irish community.

Along with his wife Sabina, Mr Higgins toured the stadium in East London where the games will be held this summer, before posing beside the Olympic torch, which will be brought to Dublin in the run-up to the games.

Sonia O'Sullivan, who won 5,000m silver in the Sydney Olympics in 2000, will take the torch first when it arrives at the Garden of Remembrance for the start of a two-and-a-half-hour ceremony in Dublin before it returns to the North.


"I am enormously impressed in every way. First of all in the beautiful architectural achievement that it is, from the point of view of people who will be viewing," Mr Higgins said of the stadium.

"You get the impression of something that has an enormous capacity but at the same time has so many classical features."

Mr Higgins said he hoped to make the trip to the stadium for the opening ceremony of the games.

During his visit, he met with Kieran Behan (22), the first Irish gymnast ever to qualify for the Olympics, as well as paralympians Michael McKillop and Sarah Caffery.

He later attended a lunch with a number of cultural figures, including theatre director Garry Hynes and singer Camille O'Sullivan.

Mr Higgins spoke of the intimate relationship between Britain and Ireland and the advances that had occurred in recent years -- from the peace process to the state visit of Queen Elizabeth last year.

And in an address to business people at the Irish embassy last night, Mr Higgins said the real story of the Irish people's contribution to Britain had not yet been told.

"The modern Irish business community in Britain represents the most recent phase of a long tradition of Irish people settling in and contributing to Britain," he said.

He traced the story from "farm labourers and canal builders" through railway labourers and construction workers. Then he hailed those today "who work across many cutting-edge professions in 21st Century Britain".

The President and his party completed the visit by attending 'Juno and the Paycock' at the Lyttelton Theatre last night.

He is expected to fly home on an Aer Lingus flight this morning.

Irish Independent

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