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Shankill hails its golden girl Kirsty after her medal-winning heroics at Special Olympics

By Lesley Houston

Published 05/08/2015

Kirsty Devlin receives a rapturous welcome on the Shankill Road yesterday
Kirsty Devlin receives a rapturous welcome on the Shankill Road yesterday
Kirsty Devlin receives a rapturous welcome on the Shankill Road yesterday
Kirsty Devlin receives a rapturous welcome on the Shankill Road yesterday
Kirsty Devlin's beaming grandmother Elizabeth Nesbitt plants a kiss on the double gold winner

The first gold medallist for Team Ireland in the Special Olympics boarded an open top bus in Belfast yesterday to be cheered through the streets after an amazing haul of medals in Los Angeles.

But Kirsty Devlin wasn't content with just one gold, and went on to scoop another during the summer games which came to a close on Sunday.

She then added another two silver medals to her name in a stunning display of acrobatic talent.

The 21-year-old Special Olympian, who trains at the Salto Gymnastic club in Belfast, was hailed a heroine yesterday at her homecoming event which culminated in a reception at Shankill Leisure Centre.

Kirsty's ceremony was one of a number to be held around Northern Ireland in the coming days to welcome home the other Ulster 11 participants who took a grand total of 19 medals for Team Ireland.

Kirsty's medals were among Team Ireland's overall tally of 26 gold, 28 silver and 28 bronze medals, as well as 41 placement ribbons. There were also 31 personal bests between their 88 athletes.

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín yesterday congratulated the Ulster contingent for their great performances.

"They have done everyone proud and I also commend their coaches, their families and the many volunteers who have worked collectively to make events such as this possible," she said.

Kirsty's mum Elizabeth Devlin admitted she was jet-lagged but in jubilant spirits.

"I'm a very proud mum; I'm so proud of her, she's just fantastic," she said.

"Kirsty got involved in Special Olympics when she was 12 years old - she's 21 now and she absolutely loves it; making friends and geting out and about, everything about it."

Her brother William said the sport had enriched his sister's life.

"Sport has changed her life - she's made new friends, met new coaches and new people all over the place.

"It's been a really great experience for me, going to LA and supporting my sister as she represented Team Ireland in gymnastics. It makes me feel really, really proud of her," he added.

Local TUV councillor Jolene Bunting, who helped organise the event, said the community was delighted by Kirsty's success.

"Shankill Road girl Kirsty Devlin has done the people of Belfast as a whole extremely proud by two gold medals and two silver medals in gymnastics at the Special Olympics."

Other medallists included Sarah Jane Johnston from Lurgan, who took bronze in the 100m backstroke; equestrian winner Déarbháil Savage (15) from Co Armagh, who won two gold medals and a silver; Carole Catling from Newtownabbey who secured a gold in the table tennis, and double silver medallist kayaker Nuala Browne from Strabane.

Golfers Jill Connery of Scarva and Ursula McDonnell of Belfast gained a silver medal, as did Oliver Doherty of Buncrana, while Coleraine tenpin bowler Sean Campbell took silver, and Patrick Quinlivan of Letterkenny took three bronze medals in gymnastics.

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