FOLLOWING four days of fantastic fun which warmed the hearts of people across the city and county, the volunteers involved in this year’s Special Olympics which were hosted in Limerick have been honoured with the Person of the Month award.
A total of 1,500 Special Olympic athletes from all over Ireland received a hero’s welcome in the city on a sun-drenched Thursday back in June before witnessing unforgettable scenes at the opening ceremony in the People’s Park. The athletes then took part in competitions in 14 sports on the following Friday, Saturday and Sunday - the majority of which took place at the University of Limerick.
Claire O’Connor, volunteer services manager, Ireland Games 2014, was accompanied by a number of volunteers at the Clarion Hotel this week to accept the award on behalf of the 3,000 volunteers who helped stage the momentous event. “About 70% or more of the volunteers were from Limerick,” Claire explained. “Compared to 2010 [when the Games were last held in Limerick] we had more volunteers this time. The opening ceremony was very different to 2010 - this time it was more intimate being in the park. It was very much focused on the athletes and what they would enjoy. The street parade was fantastic and we were blessed with the weather. It started people off on a high.”
Over the course of three days, some 2,200 medals were handed out to athletes. Limerick’s hosting of the Games generated an estimated €10 million for the local economy. The success of the event prompted the chief executive of the Games, Matt English, to comment that Limerick is capable of hosting “a world event not just a national event”.
While there were many stand-out moments over the course of the weekend, for Claire, who hails from Croagh, the closing ceremony at the Boat House in UL was one to remember.
The song of the summer, Happy, by Pharrell, was the perfect choice for athletes who sung each word to their heart’s content. “Each closing ceremony in each of the venues was very special because the volunteers become really close to the athletes and the athletes were on a high because they had done so well - maybe they had beaten their personal best or won ribbons,” Claire recalled.
“The one that stood out for me was in the Boat House - they sang Happy and did Irish dancing, Micheal O’Muircheartaigh was there and it was lovely.”
Eoin Jardine from Childers Road was only 12 the last time the Games were hosted in Limerick. While he was too young to be a volunteer back then, this time around was a different story. “In 2010 my mother Maggie volunteered and each day when she would go to the Games I would go out with her just to see the set-up. I always said if the Games did come back to Limerick I would volunteer then.”
Jardine started volunteering in the Games office in March. “The highlight was the opening ceremony - just seeing how excited all the athletes were,” smiled the fifth-year student of Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh.
Mary Moriarty from Crecora was a volunteer in 2010 and again this year - working in the support office for a number of months before the Games. “It was great to see them coming and going every day - the excitement of the athletes,” she noted.
A huge aspect of this year’s event was the traction it made on social media.
Julianne O’Sullivan from Newcastle West was in the media centre, monitoring all the tweets, Facebook ‘likes’ and general online coverage. “The reaction online was absolutely huge,” she remarked. “We used Facebook to keep people updated on medal winners and schedules and we had a person tweeting from each venue feeding into the main Special Olympics account. We were trending on Twitter within the first day,” she smiled.