Northern Ireland’s Olympic heroes are set to unite for a homecoming party.
The province is buoyant with Olympic fever following unprecedented success and plans are being drawn up to bring together athletes from Team GB and Team Ireland for a celebratory bash in their honour in Belfast.
With three medals already in the bag, courtesy of Team GB rowers Alan Campbell and brothers Richard and Peter Chambers from Coleraine, all expectations ahead of the Games have already been exceeded.
Come Wednesday evening, boxers Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes —fighting under the Team Ireland banner — could raise the local medal haul to five.
Team GB hockey player Iain Lewers is also in contention.
To celebrate the displays of the 19 athletes from Northern Ireland at the Games, plans for a homecoming party are already under way, although the details of when and where the event will take place are yet to be confirmed.
Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said that the homecoming will mark the achievements of all local athletes at the Olympics as well as those participating in the forthcoming Paralympic Games.
“We should all be very proud of the tremendous talent and effort shown by all of our local Olympians to date and the Games continue to provide important successes for sport here,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
“I plan to recognise the efforts of all our Olympic and Paralympic athletes from this part of Ireland on their return from the 2012 Games and have asked my officials to develop plans for a combined homecoming celebration.”
The deputy chair of Stormont’s culture, arts and leisure committee, William Irwin, said that he backed the joint venture.
“It’s something I would welcome,” the DUP man said.
“Northern Ireland athletes have been performing exceptionally well and if something could be arranged, at Stormont or in Belfast centre, I would be in favour of it.
“I think the Olympics have given everyone a lift and a public reception would be good for everyone,” he added. “I think it would be good to see something like that happen.” In the past, tens of thousands thronged the streets to welcome home golden girl Mary Peters on her Olympic triumph and Clones Cyclone Barry McGuigan after his boxing world title victory.
Speaking of the cross-community support he received from the public during an open-top bus tour of Belfast, McGuigan said: “In London, in 1985, I became World Featherweight Champion, but of far more importance to me personally was the fact that my homecoming to Belfast was welcomed by Protestant and Catholic fans alike.
“I remember thinking that if they could come together through sport, then there was hope for the future and the prospect of a peaceful Ireland.”
Peters was treated to a civic reception at Belfast City Hall, defying a terrorist death threat, to revel in the adulation of the Northern Ireland public.
Peters’ victory at the 1972 games in Munich provided a welcome distraction for the country during what was the bloodiest year of the Troubles.
A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said that any receptions or events for the current crop of Northern Irish Olympians would first have to be agreed by councillors at their next meeting, which will take place in September.
Plans are currently being thrashed out for a separate homecoming party in Coleraine for the town’s Olympic rowing heroes.
Bann Rowing Club and Coleraine Borough Council are working hand-in-hand to finalise arrangements for the bash with a number of events in the pipeline to welcome home silver medallists Richard and Peter Chambers and bronze medal winner Alan Campbell.
It is understood that among the ideas being considered are an open-top bus tour, a boat convoy along the River Bann (on which the trio honed their skills), and a civic reception.
All three Olympians are currently enjoying a well-earned break after their heroics at the Games and are expected home within the next fortnight.