Friday 23 March 2018

Meeting Mandela among 'greatest moments of my life'

Eamon and Alma Duffy meeting Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1996.
Eamon and Alma Duffy meeting Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1996.

Alison Comyn

LOCAL MAN Eamon Duffy described the half an hour he shared with Nelson Mandela as one of the 'greatest moments in his life'.

Eamon was invited to have a cup of tea with Madiba in his residence in Capetown in 1996, and said he spent an interesting afternoon with this 'giant of a man'.

'He was charming, engaging and lit up a room the minute he walked into it,' said Eamon, who was in South Africa during the 'Blazing Saddles' cycle tour in October 1996.

'This was during the time when the country was undergoing its change from the dreaded apartheid era, and I was one of 165 Irish people on the tour, and we never dreamed we would spend a few minutes, never mind a few hours with President Mandela.'

But if anyone could charm this busy statesman into sharing a cuppa it is Eamon.

'As well as the cycle tour from the shanty town of Mission Vale in Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, we were there to present 60 mountain bikes to the children, so government Minister Kadar Asmail arranged for us to meet Nelson Mandela,' explained Eamon, 'but we were told there would be no photo opportunities, and the very briefest of visits.

'It couldn't have been more different! He not only sat and talked Irish current affairs with me, he took time to talk to each and every one of our group, signing books and posing for photos.

'None of us could believe it, and to this day, remains one of the greatest moments of my life'.

Another local man who has paid tribute to Nelson Mandela for his sporting achievement is Seamie Briscoe.

'On behalf of Boyne Rugby Club, we share in the mourning of one of the greatest statesmen who ever lived,' he said.

'We do so, in the recollection of that never-to-be-forgotten moment in 1995, when he stood on the podium and presented the Web Ellis Rugby World Cup to Francois Pienaar, Captain of the Springboks, following his country's success in the final.

'He proudly wore the jersey of his country, which at that time was embarking on a new dawn and he enthusiastically shared in the celebrations with the team and the country.'

He added that such was the magnitude of reconciliation embodied in the humanity of Nelson Mandela, world rugby was united and all past indifferences were erased during those moments of that 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.

'It was all brought back to me years later when I stood in his cell in Robben Islands and saw what he had to endure, and how far he came,' he said.

'He was endeared to the world rugby fraternity and we join with the rest of the world in mourning Nelson Mandela and extend our sincere and heartfelt condolences to his family and the people of the Republic of South Africa on the loss of a legend.'

Drogheda Independent