Gary's triumphant return
And The Island's alight as Special Olympian Gary O'Sullivan returns home
If Charlie Farrelly can motivate the Castleisland area electorate as he did for Gary O'Sullivan's glorious homecoming on Saturday night, then he's home and dry in the May 24 local elections.
"He'll top the poll," said one man in the wrap of delight, excitement and wonder at the events unfolding before him on the streets of the town. A lesser event would have been bogged down by the presence of politicians on election mode - but not this one.
As an aside and for the curious: lining out here on the night were the Healy-Raes - in force - including Deputies Michael and Deputy Danny, and Castleisland area candidate Jackie, joining parade organiser Charlie Farrelly as Kerry County Council May 24 aspirants.
But this was for Castleisland native and Kerry Stars Special Olympics Club member Gary O'Sullivan and his outstanding, gold and silver achievements at the World Games in Abu Dhabi this time last week. Gary won gold in the shot put, and silver in the 400m walk at the games, which ran from March 14 to 21.
The focus for the people of this and surrounding parishes was on the man-of-the-moment as he arrived at the Lidl car-park, close to the stroke of 7pm on a beautiful mid-spring evening.
The weather also played its part in full compliment to what was going on under its gaze. It threw up a panorama of a paraná-pine-sky backdrop, which seemed to be no further away than Knockeen, and it added to the pure joy and jollity of the evening. A team of pikemen/women led by Willie Reidy - with turf from the Black Banks - readied itself for the momentous occasion and wondered if the sods were fueled up enough to last the trip up and down the town.
They were, and they had to be quenched in a pan of water at the Ivy Leaf after the parade.
If Gary was on the ball in Abu Dhabi, Piper Noel O'Mahony was equally so on Tralee Road as he cajoled his pipes most tunefully and then led the parade while giving it his almighty best - as Pats Bocock would say on the Ivy Leaf stage. Noel kept his last and most fitting tribute to the occasion for the gathering on the grounds of the Ivy Leaf and, in particular, for those in the ground around the Ivy Leaf.
"I'm always aware of where I play, and I thought that 'Now is the Hour' was a fitting tribute to Gary's occasion here tonight and to the people buried here where we're gathered," said Noel.
Yet again, the start of the event was pure Castleisland. Only the really committed went down to the Lidl starting point as the off-time arrived. This prompted one local woman to hope out loud that there would be a crowd befitting Gary's achievements. She needn't have worried.
Nowhere must be a really over-populated place as people came from there and lined Main Street on both sides as the parade with a Garda escort made its way up to the old library - and down again - eventually.
Gary himself got a bit of a suck-in when he cleared the Market Cross and got his first glimpse of Main Street and all the people who came from Nowhere to be here to applaud and to praise, and to shake his hand. Or to offer him a glass or two of champagne, as the bould Betty O'Connell of Kearney's Bar did, and she held the traffic for as long as that took.
Songwriters, God bless them, have written beautifully fitting lines for days like this, and Van Morrisson's 'Days Like This' kept spinning away in my head until it got a fair shoulder from a line in Kirsty McColl's version of The Kinks' song, 'Days I'll Remember All My Life'.
In spite of the fact that he was just back from an energy-sapping week of competition and heat and excitement, Gary was receptive to all who wished to talk to him and pose for endless photographs with him. That's a two-way thing, and Gary unveiled a genuine wave which exuded admiration and appreciation for those who came from Nowhere to hail their Olympic Champion on a night we'll remember all our lives.
The parade ended with a reception at the Ivy Leaf Art Centre, where Gary was welcomed at the door by director Jerome Stack and onto the stage by the ubiquitous, Charlie Farrelly and Monsignor Dan O'Riordan. Gary was then handed the mic by Charlie, and he thanked all those who packed the building and the streets earlier for his heart-warming homecoming.
Charlie then reminded him of the 31st birthday he hadn't time to celebrate in Abu Dhabi last week, and a raucous chorus, with more keys than you'd find in Mountjoy, did the honours - not once but twice.
The night ended thus, and the crowds dispersed back to Nowhere, as crowds do. The night of Gary's Olympic Games homecoming will live long in the memories of those who were there.
The many children present took in the whole atmosphere of positivity surrounding the event - and that, too, was part of Gary's gift to his immediate community. For Gary himself, that night and the days which led up to it could be wrapped in gold and silver and knotted by the line from The Kinks: Days I'll Remember All My Life. It was a proud week for Castleisland, concluded by a night of outstanding community celebration and solidarity.