It’s not the Magic Kingdom, but for the heroes of West Cork’s rowing fairytale, home is where the heart is.
Skibbereen came to a standstill yesterday to welcome home its international rowing stars following their efforts at the World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida, last Friday.
Thousands turned out to welcome Team Ireland’s Skibbereen contingent, including medal winners Paul O’Donovan, who defended his men’s lightweight single sculls crown, and Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll who won gold in the men’s lightweight pair.
Despite taking a breather between the championships and their triumphant return, the rowers admitted it was good to be home.
“We’re probably more excited to be home to say hello to everyone and to see the lads again,” Mark O’Donovan told RTÉ.
“We’ve been away for a while — Disneyland and Universal are good, but you can’t beat Skibbereen at the end of the day,” he said.
The trip home will be a short one, as Gary, Paul, and Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll head to prestigious Head of Charles Regatta in Boston next week.
Emily Dulohery, Skibbereen Rowing Club PRO, said the homecoming planning was a team effort that saw a number of volunteers and organisations pull in the same direction.
“The Main Street was full, the whole community got behind it. It was a lovely evening to celebrate great achievements,” she said.
“A lot of work went into it, there was a good bit of effort behind it, there were volunteers, marshals, everyone chips in for evenings like this. The gardaí supported the closure of Main Street and the county council also supported us.”
Emily said the whole team are an inspiration to the young people of the town. “They’re absolutely brilliant, the athletes are super encouraging of all youngsters, even those not even into rowing,” she said.
Denise Walsh, who returned home having competed in the women’s lightweight single sculls final, plays a key role in nurturing the next generation of Skibbereen rowers.
“Rowing Ireland has a programme called ‘Get Going, Get Rowing’. Denise and I bring this rowing programmes to schools. It’s all about participation, where first we get them to try rowing machines in schools, then once they’ve learned some technique they get out on the river.
“It’s about getting them to try something mightn’t have before,” she said.
The star power of the children’s teacher never fails to capture their imagination.
“We watched Denise row on TV in school, and the following week then she is there with the kids in PE class,” said Emily.
“It’s a great connectivity with the kids, and particularly a great inspiration for girls in sport to see their heroes up close like that.”
But as St Fachtna’s Silver Band led the homecoming procession down Skibbereen’s main thoroughfare, it became evident that the rowers’ love for their sport isn’t the only thing that’s coming into fashion in West Cork.
The men’s facial grooming has inspired a legion of moustachioed minions, with kids donning false whiskers to emulate their idols.
The trend hasn’t gone unnoticed, joked Emily.
“It seems to be catching on, it’s all a little bit worrying.”
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