Olympic flame blazes a trail in North


THE OLYMPIC torch was today continuing its odyssey of the North before hopping over the Border for a brief visit to Dublin.

Torchbearers were blazing a trail through the northwest today, including stop-offs at Enniskillen, Strabane and Sion Mills, before making a morning dash to St Stephen’s Green tomorrow – the flame’s only stop-off outside the UK and Greece.

The torch yesterday took in some of the North’s best-known visitor attractions, including the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway, all along the beautiful Antrim coast. The area, home to former US Open winner Graeme McDowell, will see some sporting glory of its own when it hosts the Irish Open golf tournament later this month.

At Carrick-a-Rede, a basic structure of wooden slats and twine which invariably sways in the wind over a deep chasm down to a choppy sea, physical education teacher Clare Leahy held her nerve to light her torch from that of Denis Broderick, a cyclist who has raised £65,000 for charity.

The torch was carried across the river Bann by Séamus Reynolds, who was part of an eight-man rowing team.

Then, yesterday evening, it crossed the river Foyle via Derry’s new Peace Bridge, which connects Protestant and Catholic areas of the city. Community worker Belle Coote ran the first half of the bridge before handing the flame to 13-year-old Meabh Fisher.

The weather may have been undependable, but 12,000 people still snapped up free tickets to welcome the torch to Derry, which is gearing up for UK City of Culture 2013. Despite a significant security presence at the official welcome event in St Columb’s Park, the intention was very much to party, with a full line-up of entertainment, headlined by the indie band, General Fiasco.

Well-wishers also turned out in force to see the flame pass through Coleraine, Castlerock and Limavady as well as a string of smaller towns and villages. Organisers have said the flame will be no further than 10 miles from 95 per cent of the North’s population at some point on its five-day, whistle-stop tour. Some 8,000 people are carrying the torch for the same amount of miles around Britain and Ireland before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on July 27th.

Among the 60 torchbearers yesterday were Stephen McIlmoyle and Leanne Scott, who are to marry on July 27th. While many of those picked to carry the torch are prominent in their local community and often fundraisers for charity, sporting figures have also had a turn, including Olympians Dame Mary Peters, Wayne McCullough and Hugh Russell.