AS THE CURTAIN comes down on an absorbing London 2012, Ireland’s Paralympic heroes return home tonight with the country’s largest medal haul in a quarter of a century.
Headed by double gold-winning trio Jason Smyth, Michael McKillop and Mark Rohan, the 49-strong Irish squad won a total of 16 medals — eight gold, three silver and five bronze.
There was a further honour for McKillop, 22, at last night’s spectacular closing ceremony in a sold-out Olympic Stadium.
The Antrim native, winner of 800m and 1500m gold, was one of two recipients of the Whang Youn Dai Award for those athletes who “best exemplify the spirit of the Games and inspire and excite the world”.
Despite the team’s success, tonight’s Dublin Airport homecoming will be the only formal opportunity for the public to show their support for the team. Athletes are expected to arrive in the main arrivals hall of Terminal 1 at approximately 8.15pm following a brief media reception in a restricted area.
The government and Dublin City Council offered to host an event similar to that held for the Olympic team on its return but the team declined the offer, chef de mission Liam Harbison explained.
By the time the team return they will have been away from home and their families — parents, husbands, wives, fiancés, partners, children — and in many cases their work for a full month.
So whilst they are grateful for the offer of a homecoming event they would prefer to meet the public who have supported them at the airport on Monday evening, and further celebrate their achievements publicly in their local communities.
An official government reception for the Irish team and their families will be hosted by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Transport Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar in Farmleigh this Friday, 15 September.
President Michael D Higgins will host a reception in Áras an Uachtaráin on 22 October.