Shane Lowry homecoming: Open champion gets huge reception as fans descend on Clara to celebrate big win
BACK in 1982, after Offaly’s iconic All-Ireland victory, signs on the roads around the county welcomed visitors to “Lowry country.”
This time round, 36 years on, the buzz was perhaps even greater.
That time it was a national title. This time - it was global.
The party in the Offaly town was in full swing as Shane Lowry took the stage on the Green, alongside his wife, Wendy, to thank his faithful friends for their support.
Earlier, his mother, Bridgie, sat in her immaculate living room, telling how Shane had wanted “an hour” on his own with his family, the Lowrys and the Scanlans, as well as with his wife Wendy and her family before all the fuss of the homecoming began.
That was important to him.
Out the back, the garden was like a golf course with its sweep of perfect grass and there was a surprise waiting - they . had had giant photographs of his previous wins blown up and placed on the wall of the garden patio.
They were expecting him around 4.30pm.
But time galloped away because of his generosity with interviewers in Dublin earlier.
In the meantime, Clara prepared for their hero, amid great excitement.
Outside the Mill bar and restaurant, a new sign was being put up, with a pun on the Claret Jug, welcoming Shane Lowry, winner of the “Clara Jug.”
Offaly County Council had ordered helium balloons in the Offaly colours. They arrived in a van and were dished out amid great excitement to the children.
Suzanne Gillivan (22) from Moate and Sophie Flanagan (22) from Ballycumber, up the road were there early on the Green to get a good spot.
“I’m so happy for him - I watched the three days of the golf,” said Suzanne.
As the preparations continued under the blistering sun, a man strolled quietly up with a story of his own about the great sportsman.
Some years ago, Clara was left bereft after the deaths of three young people in tragic circumstances.
One day afterwards, he had spotted a young man with a hurl and sliotar in his hand at their gravesides. It was Shane.
“He told me that he was in school with them and he always comes up to their graves to say hello,” said the man. “Now there’s not too many young lads would do that.”
Meanwhile, the crowd outside Cowen’s pub was getting bigger. Barry Cowen TD, stood at the doorway, grinning broadly.
Members of the extended Lowry and Scanlan families, including Shane’s uncles Michael and Sean Lowry, both members of the famous 1982 Offaly team were inside, enjoying a quiet celebratory pint.
Then word came that Shane was on the way and the Clara Town Marching Band struck up with “When I ruled the World”.
At 6.30pm, there was a wail of sirens and there he was in the front of a bus - with a gleam of silver and then the white flash of his trademark cheeky smile.
The second glimpse we saw, was of him dramatically kissing the black and white jersey of Clara GAA.
A cheer went up.
With great difficulty, enough space was created around the door for him to disembark, along with his wife, Wendy, his family, his caddy Brian ‘Bo’ Martin, the Co Down man and whom Lowry has praised for giving him a new lease of life.
The walk to the Green was a slow one - punctuated by Shane being slapped on the back. It was a carnival. A festival - and the Offaly Rover loudly played.
“I never thought I was good enough to win something like this,” Shane told the crowd.
He plays golf for a living but never thought he could win the Open. “It was just unreal, wasn’t it?” he said.
The roar from the crowd confirmed it. Yes it was unreal - but there was no worthier winner than this humble man who wore victory so lightly.