Honour to light Paralympic flame
Published 22/08/2012 | 03:22
Scouts and blind mountaineers were among a hardy band of climbers who scaled the summit of Northern Ireland's highest peak to light the Paralympic flame.
The expedition to the top of Slieve Donard in the Mourne Mountains was co-ordinated with hikes to the highest points in England, Scotland and Wales as the UK marked the official countdown to next week's Games in London.
The arduous 2,800ft ascent started before dawn with the Northern Ireland team reaching the top before 10am.
There scouts used the traditional method of rubbing flint together to create the sparks to light a fire.
Bernadette Sloan, from nearby Warrenpoint, was then asked to light the Paralympic flame. The blind outdoor pursuits enthusiast described it as "one of the best moments of my life".
"It was an absolute privilege to have been given the honour of lighting the flame," she said. "I climbed the mountain last Saturday so I knew what I was in for. It was blustery and windy at the top but it was still a great day."
The flame was placed in a miner's lantern to enable its transportation back down the mist-shrouded mountain in Co Down.
The lantern has been taken to Belfast ahead of a programme of Paralympic-themed events on Saturday, starting at Stormont in the morning with the lighting of a ceremonial cauldron and culminating with an open air evening festival at City Hall.
In between, mini flames will be taken to Ballymena, Cookstown, Carrickfergus, Londonderry, Lisburn, Newry and Strabane for their own celebration days.
After Saturday's events, the Northern Ireland flame will be united with the England, Scotland and Wales torches at the spiritual home of the Paralympics, Stoke Mandeville. The flame will then begin a 24-hour, 92-mile journey to the Olympic Stadium in London with the help of 580 torchbearers.