The president and his wife Sabina held a reception for Ireland’s Olympians in Áras an Uachtaráin where he singled out the O’Donovan brothers.
Olympic silver medallists, Paul and Gary O’Donovan are expected to receive a hero’s welcome when they return to Skibbereen this evening after landing in Cork airport last night.
Athletes, their coaches, backroom staff and family members all attended the special event yesterday morning to acknowledge their achievements in the Olympics.
Meeting those who competed in the Games the President joked with badminton player Scott Evans that he had played the game in “prehistoric times” while Sabina Higgins compared Olympic silver medalist Annalise Murphy to the Greek goddess Athena.
President Higgins praised the O’Donovan brothers for their commitment, dedication and for putting Irish rowing on a world stage.
“The O’Donovan brothers have brought Irish rowing to the world’s attention, and seeing them on the podium collecting their medals was an enormously proud moment for the country, and the authenticity of their commitment to, and pleasure in, competitive rowing was something that lifted hearts all over the world on water and on land.”
The brothers won a silver medal for Ireland in the men’s lightweight double sculls in Rio and Paul went on to claim gold in the single sculls in the World Rowing Championships in the Netherlands over the weekend and so they were not able to attend yesterday’s special event in the Áras.
Mr Higgins said: “To see Paul again on a podium lifting a gold medal high stirred the whole country.”
The president said that medals are both important and a huge source of encouragement not only for the medalists themselves, but for their team mates, for aspiring Olympians and as an inspiration for girls and boys starting off in their sporting lives.
“I hope that the success of these athletes will encourage young people to participate in some of the less traditional but rapidly growing sports, that they get the opportunity to train to elite level and to reach the heights of the Olympic Games in years to come,” he said.
He said the success of Annalise Murphy, who attended yesterday’s reception with her family, was another “special moment” for Irish sport. “We all shared in Annalise’s joy, following her bitter-sweet experience at the London Olympics, and that silver medal was long-awaited and extremely well deserved.
“I watched her reception at her own club, and young sailor after young sailor spoke of how she was their exemplar.
“The fantastic achievements of our Rio medalists and all of our athletes who competed at the highest level, have instilled such pride in Irish people everywhere, and you have shown yourselves as true and vibrant ambassadors for your country.”
President Higgins also welcomed what he called the “victory in the justice of athletes” which has seen Rob Heffernan being awarded a bronze medal from the London Olympics, and the gold medal won at the World Championships in Berlin to Olive Loughnane.