O'Donovan brothers arrive home for 'mighty craic' on the streets of Skibbereen
Olympic rowing stars Gary and Paul O'Donovan flew back to Cork last night to a heroes' welcome and vowed that their Skibbereen homecoming party will resemble a week-long carnival.
Paul (22) added a world championship title to the silver medal he won at Rio 2016 alongside his brother, Gary (23) - and they were cheered to the echo by hundreds of friends and supporters as they emerged from Cork Airport's baggage claim area shortly after 9.30pm.
Cork Airport had arranged for "an honour welcome" for the rowers, and their Aer Lingus plane taxied through a water arch created by two fire brigade units.
Gary and Paul were taken into the cockpit for the special tribute. "God that was great craic alright," Paul said.
The rowers flew back to Cork via Amsterdam, having been at the World Rowing Championships in Rotterdam where Paul took gold last Saturday. He became a world champion while being cheered on by his proud brother and parents, Trish and Teddy O'Donovan.
Teddy had driven to Rotterdam with Paul's boat - but Irish rowing authorities intervened and insisted Teddy fly home alongside his sons instead of undertaking the long ferry trip.
The brothers emerged as the stars of the Brazil games, with Skibbereen even creating a special 'Gary and Paul Pizza' in their honour - with a topping of just "steak and spuds".
Gary and Paul were visibly taken aback as more than 200 people, most wearing yellow Rio T-shirts, cheered their arrival home.
"It's fantastic - to see a huge crowd singing, shouting and roaring. It means so much," Gary said.
"We've been looking forward to coming home to west Cork and Skibbereen since we left Rio," Paul said. "There were times in Rio when we heard about the celebrations back in Skibbereen and almost wished we were back there to enjoy it all."
Gary joked that the official homecoming party today, which will culminate in an open-top bus parade around Skibbereen town centre, may last a lot longer than planned.
"It is incredible to see the Irish rowing team be part of all of this. Every kid in west Cork will get their hands on one of these medals at some stage. We've heard lots of rumours about the homecoming. From what we've heard, most of Ireland is going to be moving to Skibbereen tomorrow. We are really looking forward to that.
"But we owe so much to Skibbereen Rowing Club. They've been an absolutely massive help for us over the years. (Coach) Dominic Casey and everyone there - they've been brilliant," Paul said.
"They have had such a huge influence on our rowing. They kept us aiming high every single step of the way."
The brothers have already promised that one of the first things they will do is bring their Olympic medals, and Paul's world championship medal, to Lisheen National School where they were once pupils.
Both admitted that they've been a little overwhelmed by hints of the scale of the celebrations planned for them in west Cork.
"They're telling me they'll have to put an extension on to the town for the night," Paul said.
"It will all be mighty craic. Hopefully, everyone will enjoy the celebration and, who knows, if it persuades some young fella or young girl to try rowing as a sport, it will all have been worth it."
Between 10,000 and 20,000 people are expected to throng Skibbereen to welcome the Olympic medal-winning brothers today, with the celebrations culminating in an open-top bus tour.