A CARNIVAL atmosphere to rival the spectacular scenes some 5,000 miles away in Brazil for the World Cup opening ceremony enveloped the streets of Limerick city centre last night as the Special Olympics Irish Games got underway.
Samba dancers, fire breathers, men on stilts, and children on shoulders all added to the colourful spectacle which began on the corner of Shannon Street with the first steps of the parade at 6.30pm and ended over five hours later with the last man leaving the People’s Park following a “thrilling” opening ceremony.
Even the air temperature was similar to Sao Paula – a balmy 21 degrees.“This is the place to be, here in Limerick – much better than the World Cup,” smiled Susan Kenny, a coach with St Vincent’s Lisnagry.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. The atmosphere is unbelievable. The people of Limerick came out and lined the streets. No stone has been left unturned. It’s just fabulous,” she continued.
Traffic came to a standstill at teatime as some 1,500 athletes representing every county in Ireland marched proudly through Limerick city centre led by the 40 strong Special Olympics Torch Run team.
Cameras flashed furiously along the streets where high fives and fist pumps made for special keepsake moments.
Hip shaking music by The Black Eyed Peas and Katy Perry reverberated around the manicured greens of the People’s Park as the teams from the Easter Region, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht arrived to take their seats. The biggest, cheer needless to say, went up for the home province, Munster.
MC for the opening ceremony, radio presenter Will Leahy - who has lived in Limerick all his life - told the energetic audience that he was never so proud of his home city.
“I have never seen the park look so well and I have never seen such a fantastic crowd - all looking like they are ready for a great weekend of games,” he said.
Special Olympics athlete Susan Torpey from Garryowen who is competing in bocce in the Games – which take place in various venues across Limerick until Sunday afternoon - couldn’t get over the atmosphere.
“I’m loving it here. I’m enjoying the whole lot,” she beamed.
Lots of well-known faces turned out for the special occasion amongst them former Munster and Ireland rugby star Keith Wood, former Olympic athlete Eamonn Coghlan, JP McManus, and legendary GAA commentator Micheal O’Muircheartaigh.
“It proves that people with disabilities – whether they be mental or physical can take part in sport and enjoy themselves,” said Micheal with his unmistakeable Kerry lilt.
Singer Paddy Casey had everyone in the park on their feet as he belted out the hits. He was joined by the Shannon Gospel Choir on stage as part of the entertainment which featured high-octane performances by Limrockers Cru, Samba dancers, and Irish band Kila.
The main Olympic flag was brought to the flag pole by a representative from each team. As the flag was raised by Irish and Lions rugby star David Wallace and Face of the Games Christine Delaney, confetti cannons burst open spraying multi-coloured paper into the skies above the People’s Park to signal the start of the Games.
Let them begin!
For a full schedule on all the Games see specialolympics.ie