Athletes, families, volunteers and organisers recall the impace of a summer Games in Ireland
The fireworks display at the opening ceremony of the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games at Croke Park. Photograph: Alan Betson
Tracy Piggott, RTÉ presenter
It was such a magical experience with so much outpouring of goodwill and affection. I remember particularly one event in the pool where one youngster who was very physically challenged was at least two lengths behind the rest of the swimmers. The crowd encouraged her every inch of the way and when she finally finished, a good few minutes after the previous competitor, the place erupted. It was an incredible atmosphere that I will never forget. I looked around and there was not a dry eye in the house, including mine. I think the Special Olympics brought out the very best in people.
Nora Owen, former Minister for Justice
I’ll never forget the night of the opening ceremony when the motorcycle cops came in from the north and the south and did that slow circular movement around Croke Park with the lights flashing. There were two big Special Branch guys standing beside me at the back of the stadium. I turned to say ‘Isn’t this wonderful?’ and neither would look at me and I knew why - because they were both crying. It was quite an emotional moment. They spoke to me with their heads turned to one side. Tears were running down my face. These were quite emotional moments.
Colin Farrell, actor
Congratulations to Special Olympics Ireland on the 10th anniversary of what was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life, and I think the lives of many people in Ireland. An extraordinary achievement from all the athletes, and all the volunteers, and all the aides, and basically Special Olympics Ireland as an organisation, and as a facility for a sense of unity and comradeship and togetherness and competition. And here’s to another 10 years of success and brotherhood.
Rita Lawlor, former Special Olympics athlete
On the night of the opening ceremony I was on the stage getting the party started but I really enjoyed it. I was interviewing athletes, which I really enjoyed. I was grinning my head off with the atmosphere. It was really lovely. People used to say: “I saw you on the telly” so it was great fun and it gives you a lift.
Moya Doherty, producer
We have been blessed to experience extraordinary nights in theatres and arenas around the world but none could compare to that unique and unforgettable midsummer Croke Park event for the opening of the Special Olympics. We were honoured at Tyrone Productions to be invited by Denis O’Brien and the Special Olympics Organisation to produce the event. On that starry, starry night, everyone shone brightly.
With everything timed and planned to perfection, we were ready for the off. Then a light shower of rain fell and our hearts missed a beat. But the mops came out, the stage was dried down so that the performers were safe and the surface secure. The sun shone.
The memory is held forever in a special hard-drive in the heart, when Bill Whelan’s Riverdance music sang, synchronised by a line of one hundred dancers stretching forever across that stage of stages. I knew at that moment, there would never, and could never, be another like it.
The Edge, U2
It was a great day for everyone in the brand new Croke Park which hosted the Special Olympics on its first trip outside the US. We had the whole world watching and, with the remarkable athletes and the crowd going crazy, it was magical.
Robert Ballagh, artist
I believe, without fear of contradiction, that the invitation to create the setting for the opening ceremony in Croke Park represented the most challenging design task of my career. For example, we were required to provide a stage the full width of the pitch in order to accommodate a line of one hundred Riverdancers, and a central section that would cover the full National Symphony Orchestra. Another important element was the design and fabrication of the Special Olympics flame.