Special Olympics roars into action

A CELEBRATION cascaded through the hard man territory of Thomond Park last night as more than 15,000 people gathered for the opening of Special Olympics Ireland.

Over the coming days it beckons the gallantry and camaraderie of more than 1,900 athletes.

After the parade of athletes around the stadium, Dolores O’Riordan and The Cranberries rocked the night away.

There was one very special moment during last night’s concert when Kim O’Kelly from Kildare went on stage. The 14-year-old athlete helped O’Riordan belt out her chart-topping song Ode to My Family.

O’Riordan, who actually brought the Cranberries on stage for the first time in 15 years in Limerick, said “this is beautiful, you guys are such an inspiration”.

“Anything is possible if you have a dream.

“Twenty years ago the Cranberries began in this town and we had a dream and we followed that dream.”

Sharon McMeel, who lives in Dooradoyle, Limerick, was looking out for her aunt Kathleen McMeel among the athletes.

She said: “Kathleen, who is 50, is captain of the Munster soccer team and has represented Ireland in the International Special Olympics in China. She has recently moved into an independent living accommodation in Bruff, and we are all here for the next few days to cheer on her five-a-side soccer team.”

Rugby icon Paul O’Connell, forced out of the Irish tour to New Zealand and Australia due to injury, proved a big hit. “I am privileged to be here. My aunt Mary has Down Syndrome. She took part in the Special Olympics and all our family knows what that meant for her.

“There is also the added delight of hearing Dolores O’Riordan and The Cranberries. I used to listen to them when I was in my teens and haven’t heard them live since then. Great.

“It was a pleasure to work with the Special Olympics organisers in the lead-up to the games in Limerick. Big companies could learn from them in how to run things.”

As well as the 1,900 athletes who are being accommodated on the UL campus, another 4,000 family members and trainers will fill local hotels.

Eoin Prendergast of Shannon Development said: “This is a four-day event, which means people are staying for three nights. We reckon it will be worth about €25 million to tourism in the region. Every room is booked and we have people staying in Nenagh and other towns outside of Limerick.

The Special Olympics has forged a special bond between the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Duncan McCausland, assistant chief constable of the PSNI, said he was amazed at Limerick. “It’s a jewel looking on the Shannon,” he said.

The two police forces combined to bring the games’ Torch of Hope through the island of Ireland. Mr McCausland said: “The games are not about disability. The games are about people with real ability and the celebration of those abilities. We in the PSNI are privileged to join with the Garda Síochána to support these great games.”

Donal Donovan, chief executive of eircom, which has been sponsoring the Special Olympics Ireland for 25 years, said the Limerick event has all the omens of being one of the greatest.

“This is all about community; there is no single event which unites our own workforce as everybody gets involved,” be said.

Denis O’Brien, chairman of the patrons’ committee, paid a special thanks to JP McManus for donating €250,000 to the games. He said: “JP and Noreen are true blues, a terrific family.”

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