Tears of joy for our golden Olympic heroine Katie Taylor on her return to Bray
IT was a moment worth all the sacrifices. A moment that made up for long, lonely and arduous years of training.
As Katie Taylor stood on the old Victorian bandstand and gazed out at a sea of cheering faces, the tears in her eyes spoke more than words ever could. How good it felt to be home at last.
Katie was back on the familiar seaside promenade where she had often walked on her way down to Bray Boxing Club.
Back in Co Wicklow amongst her own people, with her beloved grandmother just a few steps away in a local hotel, waiting to embrace her.
Only this time, she had an Olympic gold medal around her neck.
Katie shook her head in incredulity. "Unbelievable," she mouthed to compere Des Cahill. The deafening cheers went on. At least 20,000 and probably more had made it their business to get to this much anticipated and very special homecoming.
the fighter who did so much to get women's boxing to the Olympics in the first place had fought onwards to astounding victory.
They had a lot to be proud of in this modest, dark-haired slip of a young woman.
There was no way they were ever going to miss out on giving Katie and fellow Bray-based Olympian Adam Nolan a warm welcome home on this sunny, blustery day.
And it wasn't just the people of Bray -- they had come from all four corners of the country -- from as far away as Cork, Monaghan, Galway, Down and Waterford.
Some held up signs: "Katie u legend" and "Well done Katie".
Someone else flew the Wicklow flag.
There were business opportunities to be had, too. "Katie Taylor and the gold medals," shouted one of the multitude of purveyors of green Katie Taylor T-shirts, tricolours, inflatable green hammers and -- yes -- some knock-off gold medals.
The green inflatable boxing gloves printed with "Knocked out by the Irish" were proving especially popular with the crowd.
"Howya love, I know you came over for my telephone number," said the cheeky trader to a passing customer.
Away from the crowds, singer Sinead O'Connor stood outside her beachfront house, surveying the scenes from behind giant dark glasses. Naturally, even Sinead was wearing a Katie Taylor T-shirt yesterday.
By lunchtime, uptown was practically deserted, with everyone converging along the route where the open-top bus carrying Katie, Adam and their families into Bray and down the seafront.
The athletes were to arrive at 4.45pm but things had run over a bit at the airport and it was 5.25pm when the bus was finally sighted, turning the corner, the lights of the garda escort blinking.
A great roar of excitement rose from the crowd.
And then we saw her -- a slight figure at the back of the bus, waving with both hands. She put her hands to her eyes at one point, as though scarcely believing what she was seeing.
She threw a few little victory punches and raising her arms, led them in a chorus of uproarious cheers.
The Camembert Quartet, who had been warming up the crowd -- not that they needed it -- struck up a merry and re-worded rendition of a Carribbean classic, titled 'Bray Girl in the Ring'.
Dismounting the bus, Katie posed for pictures with her arms around Adam Nolan and Georgian Zaur Antia -- part of the Olympic training team.
We noticed that her hands were smooth and completely unblemished despite her gruelling bouts in the ExCel.
She walked through a line of civil defence volunteers and giving them a brief scare, she stumbled up the steps of the bandstand.
But she was mercifully uninjured -- well used as she is to dancing her way through danger.
She stepped up on stage and clouds of red ticketing showered all over the crowd. "Unbelievable," said Katie as she gazed out at everyone.
"I'm just overwhelmed, this is incredible," she said, as Des Cahill suggested to her that she had often walked down the prom on quieter days.
"I wouldn't be in this situation without all the support I got in the last few years," she said sincerely.
"Without support I'd be nothing."
The devout Christian said she wanted to thank everyone for all their prayers over the last week.
"I know I had the whole nation praying for me -- and I felt the presence of God in that stadium."
Asked if she had seen her grandmother yet, Katie replied that she hadn't, but that she was going to go "straight to her after this".
"I'm so proud to be bringing this gold medal back to everyone here," said Katie, as the crowd roared in approval.
Des told her that everyone in Bray felt they had a share in the medal, asking if she minded.
"No, this medal belongs to everyone here," she said, clearly meaning it.
Then it was her father Pete's turn to say a brief word.
"It's unbelievable to be here," he said. The plan was to go away on holidays for a few weeks but it was good to be back in his "own bedroom" having been away for four weeks, he added.
"We can't thank everyone enough," he said.
Flowers were presented to Katie by Scarlett Glynn (8) and Amy Quinn. Afterwards, Scarlett said she had watched all of Katie's fights and that it was great to meet her.
A bouquet was also presented to Adam Nolan and Padraig Moran -- Bray's Boccia athlete in the forthcoming Paralympics.
Then the Camembert Quartet had another musical play on words as they struck up with the James Bond song 'Nobody Does it Better' changing it around to "Katie, you're the best".
Pete Taylor threw his arm proudly around his daughter as they gazed out at the crowd.
Someone threw up a tricolour and she wrapped it around her for the snapping cameras and cameraphones. She smiled and kissed her fingers at them, clearly overwhelmed by their waves of love and support.
"I think she is just amazing -- it is great to see her back in the flesh. She is so unassuming, so modest and so different in the ring. She is a real inspiration," said Teresa Doyle from Baltinglass, Co Wicklow.
Despite her happiness to be home, however, the tremendous physical ordeal that was the Olympics was visible on Katie's face -- she looked exhausted.
But the day wasn't over. It was off to a reception at the Barracuda restaurant for Bray Town Council, with guests including members of the various sporting organisations in the town.
Katie posed for pictures with two teenage girls from Killiney who said they were her number one fans. "We came out on the DART to see her. We love her so much," they said.
And then there was finally enough time to slip off to a nearby hotel to finally see her grandmother, Kathleen Cranley, before the night-time display of glittering fireworks.