Irish President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to Team Ireland on their outstanding performance at the London Paralympic Games.
The team will touch down in Dublin to a heroes’ welcome tomorrow night with a haul of eight gold, three silver and five bronze medals.
President Higgins said the country’s paralympian athletes are inspirational role models for all.
“Their courage, commitment and sporting prowess will live long in the hearts and minds of the Irish people,” he said.
“I look forward to meeting them in Áras an Uachtaráin in the near future and to congratulating them in person.”
Elsewhere, Irish runner Michael McKillop has been chosen as the athlete who exemplified the best spirit of the Paralympic Games, alongside Kenya’s Mary Nakhumicha Zakayo.
The Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award winners will receive a gold medal at the London 2012 closing ceremony later.
Thirty-nine participating countries nominated 58 athletes for the award.
The International Paralympic Committee said McKillop, who lit up the Olympic Stadium in London with gold-medal winning races in the 800m and 1,500m T37 events, was chosen for dedicating his time to helping and encouraging thousands of schoolchildren throughout Ireland.
The runner from Glengormley said he believes all Paralympians should help promote their own sports and serve as role models for the next generation.
President Higgins said the gold medal-winning performances of McKillop, Jason Smyth, Mark Rohan, Darragh McDonald and Bethany Firth were “brave and heart-warming”.
“We also remember the wonderful medal-winning endeavours of Catherine O Neill, Fran Meehan, Catherine Walsh, Helen Kearney, Orla Barry, James Brown, Damien Shaw, James Dwyer, as well as some great performances which did not achieve medal success,” he said.
“I am delighted that the Paralympic team has exceeded its medal targets by a considerable margin, sixteen medals is an astonishing achievement.
“The combined efforts and success of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes makes all of us feel so proud and we are indebted to them.”
Smyth, McKillop and Rohan earned double gold as Ireland enjoyed phenomenal success at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Ireland finished with 16 medals, half of them gold, with Smyth leading the way.
Smyth, the world’s fastest Paralympian, who is visually impaired and trains in Florida with Tyson Gay, successfully defended his men’s T13 100metres and 200m titles to take his haul to four.
His room-mate McKillop was determined not to play second fiddle and defended the T37 800m title he won in Beijing while adding gold in the 1,500m.
Hand-cyclist Rohan enjoyed double success at Brands Hatch, with wins in the road time-trial and road race, and two more victories came in the pool through Darragh McDonald (men’s S6 400m freestyle) and Bethany Firth (women’s S14 100m backstroke.
Catherine Walsh and her tandem pilot rider Francine Meehan won Ireland’s first Paralympic cycling medal with silver in the 3km individual pursuit and claimed another on the road with bronze in the time-trial. James Brown and his pilot Damien Shaw also won tandem time-trial bronze.
Helen Kearney won three medals in equestrian at Greenwich – silver in the championship test, bronze in the freestyle test and team bronze alongside Elish Byrne, James Dwyer and Geraldine Savage.
Catherine O’Neill won silver in the F51/52/53 discus and Orla Barry in the F57/58 discus in athletics.