The championships get under way on Monday at the 50m swimming pool at the University of Limerick’s (UL) arena complex. Defence Minister Willie O’Dea will join with the swimmers, their coaches and families for a welcome ceremony at UL on Sunday.
Mr O’Dea said yesterday: “Following on from the achievements of the Special Olympics World Games in 2003, I am delighted to have been asked to attend this great occasion which will continue to showcase the considerable sporting talents of people with intellectual disability.”
A spokeswoman for the organisers Down Syndrome Ireland said the week-long event will provide an opportunity for swimmers from countries as distant as Tonga, Taiwan and Turkmenistan to compete at international level.
“All swimmers have had to achieve strict qualifying times to be eligible to compete at this level and many perform at times only marginally slower than those recorded by non-intellectually-disabled competitive swimmers,” she said.
“It is hoped that in the future, the strong performances of swimmers with Down syndrome will make a strong case for them gaining eligibility to compete in the Para Olympics.”
A 16-member team will represent Ireland with swimmers from Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Louth, Monaghan and Westmeath competing.
The spokeswoman said: “Down Syndrome Ireland have committed huge resources to organising the championships on a sporting level and in providing an opportunity for a total of over 500 swimmers, coaches and family members to avail of some Limerick and Irish hospitality.”
A programme of social events has been developed around the time trials and competition days which will see the delegations enjoy a céilí, a demonstration of hurling, a trip to Bunratty Park, which is organised by Shannon Development, and a gala dinner on the final evening of the championships.
Shannon Development director of tourism John King said: “We hope that our event will complement the tremendous work that has been done by Down Syndrome Ireland.
“Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is uniquely positioned to give the athletes a taste of Irish history and culture from mediaeval times to the present day.”