A ministerial reception celebrating Northern Ireland’s Olympic and Paralympic heroes took place at Parliament Buildings on Thursday night.
Team Ireland and Team GB athletes, plus invited guests from the world of sport, gathered at Stormont, with entertainment provided by children from the Ulster Youth Choir.
Dame Mary Peters said she was thrilled to be at the reception to recognise success at the London Olympics and Paralympics.
“To have so much success coming from Northern Ireland is really exceptional,” said the 1972 pentathlon winner. “I’m really pleased. Jason and Michael in particular and our rowers and boxers were excellent.”
David Seaton, chairman of Athletics NI, said our elite athletes performance over the summer will inspire children to get into sport.
“We are hoping more and more people will participate in sport and young people will join official clubs,” he added.
Team GB rower Alan Campbell said he was excited to be home and revealed he broke the top of his bronze medal earlier this week.
“You can take the boy out of Coleraine, but you can’t take Coleraine out of the boy — I superglued it back together,” he said.
The Belfast Telegraph has been campaigning for a public reception for all of Northern Ireland’s medal winning athletes, but so far, nothing has been planned at Stormont level.
Royal Mail’s U-turn over gold postboxes first class: athlete
By Chris Kilpatrick and Amanda Poole
A Royal Mail U-turn over a refusal to paint a postbox gold in the home towns of first class Northern Ireland Paralympians who represented Team Ireland has been warmly welcomed.
At last night’s Stormont reception for our Olympic and Paralympics athletes, Jason Smyth, dubbed ‘Ulster’s Usain Bolt’, Michael McKillop and Bethany Firth told the Belfast Telegraph they were happy to be recognised in this way and thanked Royal Mail.
Earlier this week Royal Mail it would not be getting the paint brushes out for athletes from here who competed for Team Ireland.
Across the UK, Team GB Olympians and Paralympians have had postboxes painted in their honour.
Now Royal Mail has confirmed that it is painting postboxes gold in the village of Eglinton, for double gold medal winner and world record Paralympic sprinter Smyth, in Glengormley for fellow sprinting ace and double gold champion Michael McKillop, and in swimmer Bethany Firth’s hometown of Seaforde.
All three returned from the Games clutching gold medals which they won while competing for Team Ireland.
Jason said: “It’s great they have changed their mind on it. It’s a nice gesture. We came home with gold medals, so I don’t see why not.”
Michael agreed: “It is unexpected,” he said. “Royal Mail has decided to honour us and reward us with a gold postbox, which is very nice of them.
“I thank them very much.”
Bethany, who claimed Team Ireland’s first gold medal early on in the London Paralympic Games said: “It’s great, it’s really cool.”
Barbara Roulston, head of external relations for Royal Mail in Northern Ireland, said: “Honorary gold postboxes for Jason, Michael and Bethany are an appropriate tribute for our local Paralympic heroes given their tremendous achievements and the very clear community support for this.”
Smyth tweeted: “Gold postbox on the way, great to see a change of heart from Royal Mail. Thank you.”
South Down SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie welcomed the move to acknowledge Bethany’s success.
“Bethany has brought fame and credit to Seaforde village. It is commendable that Royal Mail is joining in the community spirit,” she said.
SDLP Derry MLA Pat Ramsey had been campaigning for Royal Mail to change its mind.
He said: “I welcome this change of heart. They listened to people, took their views on board and this response is very well received.”
It is not known if the new-look box will be in place for Saturday when Smyth is expected to be a big crowd-puller on his return to Eglinton.