The Olympic torch relay, a throwback to ancient Greece, became a contemporary Olympic tradition at the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. The 2012 summer games will open on July 27, in London, after the torch has completed a 70-day tour of 8,000 miles, carried by 8,000 torch bearers.
As the Olympic torch traveled its 5-day relay through Northern Ireland and Dublin June 3 through June 8, the torch’s path was a whirlwind of running high-fives, cheers, and inspiring athletes and citizens.
The torch was welcomed by thousands on Sunday, June 3 as it traveled from Belfast to Portrush for day 17 of its journey. Starting at Titanic Belfast, Karen Marshall from the village of Tynan in Co. Armagh, the first of the 132 bearers of the day, was cheered on with encouraging signs saying, “Keep ’er lit.” The flame visited important sights, including Stormont, the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
On June 5 the torch traveled from Derry to Newry, where it changed hands at a former border check point to 1992 Olympic champion boxers Wayne McCullough and Michael Carruth. As the torch progressed into Dublin, children and adults took breaks from school and work to watch its procession.
Songs of “Ooh, ah, Paul McGrath” were chanted ecstatically as Irish footballer Paul McGrath ran by. Sonia O’Sullivan, Olympic silver medalist for the 5,000 meter run in the Sydney 2000 Olympics, carried the flame down Dublin’s O’Connell Street for a 12 km circuit through the city of Dublin. O’Sullivan was the first of 40 sports champions who participated in this celebration that lasted approximately two and a half hours. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, President Michael D. Higgins and singer Jedward also carried the torch.
On June 7, the torch traveled from Newcastle to Clough, Downpatrick, Crossgar, Saintfield, Ballynahinch, Templepatrick, Antrim, Ballyronan, Magherafelt, Ballymena, and then up to Moorfields. The day ended with the torch’s trip on the ferry to Stranraer in order to begin the Scottish portion of this 70-day voyage. Paul McLister from Ballycastle, known as a “shining light for those with disabilities,” held the Olympic’s blazing light through the damp grey fog as the final torch bearer of the Northern Ireland portion of its journey.
Irish Minister of State for Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar commented that “the visit of the flame [was] a wonderful opportunity for the whole of Ireland to be even more involved with the 2012 London games and for the Irish people to be part of the biggest sporting event in the world.”
Numerous international teams have selected Dublin as a training base for the London Olympics, and several Irish athletes will be competing in the London Games. The Olympic torch’s visit was a great reinforcement of the unifying strength of sport and the cooperation that exists today on the island of Ireland.