Olympic Flame makes symbolic Irish Republic visit

Agence France-Presse
The Olympic flame lit up the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday, June 6

DUBLIN, Ireland (AFP) – The Olympic flame lit up the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday, June 6, on its only visit outside Britain en route to the 2012 London Games, in a symbolic gesture of reconciliation between the two states.

Wayne McCullough, from Belfast, passed the flame across the border to his fellow 1992 Olympic boxing medallist Michael Carruth, in a light-hearted ceremony in which McCullough kissed his Dubliner friend on the head.

“It speaks very eloquently for the power of sport to transcend cultural, political and faith-based boundaries,” London Games chief Sebastian Coe told BBC television.

Irish Sports Minister Michael Ring, who watched with Coe and a crowd of onlookers as McCullough lit Carruth’s torch, said the event marked “a truly historic day for Ireland”.

“Today we bring the Olympic spirit into the heart of our capital city, in front of a global audience,” he said.

The Olympic flame is making a 10-week, 8,000-mile (12,875-kilometer) relay ahead of the Games, which begin on July 27.

Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins received the flame in Dublin following the handover.

The flame’s journey around Dublin included Croke Park stadium, the home of Ireland’s Gaelic games, ahead of its return to Northern Ireland.

More than 40 torchbearers carried the flame, including former Ireland rugby winger Denis Hickie and pop duo Jedward, who represented the nation at last month’s Eurovision song contest.

Ronnie Delany, who won the 1,500 meters gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, was applauded by Prime Minister Enda Kenny as he held his torch aloft.

Thousands of people waved Irish flags and cheered as Dublin’s final torchbearer Sonia O’Sullivan, who won the 5,000 meters silver at the 2000 Sydney Games, lit an Olympic cauldron in the city’s St Stephen’s Green park.

The flame crossed the border as part of its a five-day journey around Northern Ireland as a token of closer ties between Britain and the Republic of Ireland following Queen Elizabeth II’s landmark visit there last year.

The torch crossed back into Northern Ireland in the late afternoon and taken to Belfast City Hall where thousands of people gathered for a concert.

The trip comes a day after Britain wrapped up four days of celebrations for the sovereign’s diamond jubilee, marking her 60 years on the throne.

London Games officials decided the torch should stay in Britain apart from the Ireland trip, after Tibet-related protests dogged the global torch relay for the 2008 Beijing Games.

“It has taken many, many months of lobbying at the highest international levels to get the permission required to bring the relay south,” said Pat Hickey, president of the Olympic Council of Ireland.

Queen Elizabeth’s highly-charged visit last year was the first by a British monarch since her grandfather king George V in 1911, before the republic won independence from Britain in 1922.

In a diamond jubilee tribute, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, said he thought the visit had been his mother’s “greatest achievement”.

Seen as the last piece in the jigsaw of peace in Northern Ireland, the queen’s four-day trip required the republic’s biggest-ever security operation.

However, through some highly symbolic gestures — including speaking in Irish — she melted away decades of post-colonial angst.

The Olympic torch landed in Britain on a plane from Greece on May 18 and will arrive at the Olympic Stadium in east London for the opening ceremony. – Andrew Bushe, Agence France-Presse

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