Capital city plays its part as relay runners welcomed
Sporting heroes from all codes – and Jedward – helped carry the torch on its route
AN UNSPOKEN question lingered as hundreds of screaming girls chanted the brothers’ names while the 40 Olympic torch- bearers gathered outside the Mansion House in Dublin after the relay around the city: are Jedward bigger than the Olympics?
Thousands gathered to watch stars such as Sonia O’Sullivan, Ronnie Delany, Ruby Walsh, Michael Carruth and Henry Shefflin carrying the torch on its route, but the girls were only interested in the spiky-haired brothers from Lucan.
“No Jedward, no life!” they shouted as Lord Sebastian Coe looked on in bemusement.
The chairman of the London organising committee for the Olympic Games was instrumental in ensuring that the torch crossed the Border, making Dublin the only city outside Greece and the United Kingdom to host the flame.
The Olympic track champion acknowledged the hysteria surrounding the twins: “My entire career has been leading to the point where for 30 seconds I was Jedward’s warm-up man.”
The singers were still tucked up in bed in their matching jammies and nightcaps when the Olympic torch crossed the Border shortly after 6.30am yesterday. Its first stop in the Republic was in Howth, beside the Olympic Council of Ireland’s office.
The crowds began assembling on the Harbour Road before 7am. Face painters and jugglers mingled with marching bands, scouts and school children as they waited for President Michael D Higgins’s arrival.
“This is the biggest thing that ever happened in Howth – and I mean ever,” said Jack McGouran from the Olympic Council of Ireland.
More than 1,000 local schoolchildren had gathered – including 250 from Scoil An Duinnínigh in Kinsealy who jumped up and down with excitement – when President Higgins’s car drove into view shortly before 8am. Ten minutes later, Transition Year student Cillian Kirwan came running through the seaside village with the torch held aloft. All along the route, the torch-bearers lit each other’s torches with the Olympic flame and kept their own as souvenirs.
Mr Higgins said it was a great honour for Ireland to be involved in the flame’s journey. “The Olympic flame is one of the enduring symbols of the Olympic Games, representing peace, unity and friendship,” he said.
The torch then made its way to Croke Park, where Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin carried it on the gravity-defying skyline walk over the stadium. “I probably wouldn’t go up there on a rainy day or a windy day,” a jittery- looking Minister for Sport Leo Varadkar said afterwards.
The next crowd-pulling stop on the route was O’Connell Street when John and Edward Grimes made their debut, bounding down the street like two hyperactive puppies off the leash.
Happily, the Eurovision stalwarts didn’t attempt any cartwheels as they carried the flame and there was never any danger that hair and fire would collide.
Former international footballer Paul McGrath was amazed and honoured that thousands of people had gathered to watch the relay. He lit his torch at the Samuel Beckett bridge. The experience was “phenomenal,” he said. “I was actually quite nervous.”
It was a poignant torch run for Anthony Sutherland, father of the late boxer Darren.
“It was all about him,” he said of his son who won a bronze medal in the Beijing Olympics. “This might never happen again in my lifetime . . . he’s got his name into the record books again.”
Representing the mothers of Ireland was boxer Katie Taylor’s mother Bridget. “I only fully realised the honour when I heard I was going to be between Ronnie Delany and Sonia O’Sullivan – in the middle of two legends,” she said.
Olympic gold medallist Ronnie Delany had a spring in his step as he dropped into Government Buildings to show the torch to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Then it was back to the Mansion House for more Jedmania.
“I think today is up there with meeting Barack Obama,” said John, or was it Edward?
“I think . . . we are going to do even more ‘jepic’ things like meeting the queen. We need to meet the Pope.”
Quite what the Pope would make of Jedward is one of those joyful mysteries.
BLIND ADVENTURE athlete Mark Pollock said he was “overwhelmed” by the number of people who turned out on the streets of Dublin yesterday to see the Olympic torch relay.
Pollock, who lost his sight in his early 20s and was paralysed from the waist down after a fall more than a decade later, was one of 41 torchbearers who carried the torch through the capital.
“I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who were out on the streets. It was a much bigger event than I thought it was going to be,” he said.
“It was a huge privilege to be associated with the Olympics in any small way.”
The Trinity graduate was speaking at an event held in Trinity College Dublin last night to honour students that took part in the Olympic Games over the past 100 years.
A total of 45 Trinity graduates have taken part in the Olympic Games since 1908 and many of the Trinity Olympians collected an award for their achievements.
Maeve Kyle, who graduated in 1950, became Ireland’s first triple Olympian for athletics at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964.
Mark Kenneally, TCD’s first London 2012 Olympic qualifier, was also selected as a torchbearer in yesterday’s leg of the relay.
“It was incredible. I didn’t expect as many people to be out and for it to be as big as it was,” he said. “There was just so many people around, it was an unbelievable experience.”