The lighting of the Paralympic Flame at Northern Ireland’s devolved parliament has shone the message of the power of human endeavour and energy, it has been claimed.
A ceremonial cauldron was lit on the grounds of Stormont to launch a regionwide torch relay to mark the Games and spread the message.
Caral Ni Chuilin, Northern Ireland’s sports minister, said the ceremony should be about the inspiration of the games.
“Just as with the Olympic Torch relay, the Paralympic Flame festivities in Ireland are a showcase for all that is good and positive about our society,” she said.
“Today is about celebrating worthwhile projects and inspirational people while showing support for those from Ireland taking part in the Paralympic Games.”
After scouts lit four flames atop the highest peaks of the UK to spark the Paralympics this week, splinters of the fire will now visit communities in Ballymena, Cookstown, Carrickfergus, Londonderry, Lisburn, Newry and Strabane.
The events culminate with a lantern procession in Belfast and Agito, the Paralympic symbol which features the colours of red, blue and green circling around a central point, will be unveiled at the City Hall.
Ms Ni Chuilin said: “The Flame ambassadors who will take the Paralympic Flame to their respective areas are an inspiration in themselves.
“Everyone is encouraged to join in this event and it is important that we spread the Paralympic Games’ ideal of human endeavour and energy across Ireland. I hope all the torchbearers and flame ambassadors enjoy this celebration and take with them memories and experiences that last a lifetime.
“I also wish all our athletes from Ireland good luck in the Games. I hope they are successful in reaching all of their goals, be this taking part, exceeding personal bests or reaching the medal table.”
The Paralympics will see 4,280 athletes taking part in 503 events across 11 days of competition.
In Northern Ireland, seven-year-old sports fanatic Marc McGarel, from Ballymoney, collected the flame for Strabane.
He was born with spina bifida and dreams of one day winning a gold medal at the Paralympic Games for archery.
Newry flame ambassador Oliver Murphy is the only surviving member of the Irish team which competed at the first Paralympic Games in Rome 1960.
He is in his 70s and remains an advocate for the rights for people with disabilities – in 2010 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Limerick for his dedication to improving the lives of people with disabilities.
On Wednesday mountaineers scaled Slieve Donard in the Mournes range in Co Down - the region’s highest mountain at 850m above sea level. A ferrocerium rod was struck against a rough steel surface to create the sparks for the flame.
The four Scouts selected to take part in the fire’s creation were local teenagers Daniel O’Mahony, 16, Rachel Nicholson, 15, Matthew Dorrian, 13, and Josh Morrison, 13.
The UK’s four flames will unite in the home of the Paralympic movement, Stoke Mandeville, on Tuesday.
Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said: “With less than a week to go until the biggest and best Paralympics ever, it’s inspirational to hear about, and to celebrate, the achievements of the torchbearers who’ll be shining a light on Northern Ireland.
“The Paralympic Games are set to be a fantastic celebration of world-class sport – with more countries, more athletes and more spectators than ever before.”