The light of the Paralympic Games has made its way across Northern Ireland, infusing communities with enthusiasm for the event which begins in London this week.
A Ceremonial Cauldron was lit at Stormont at 8am on Saturday, before a flame convoy travelled around Greater Belfast.
The communities of Ballymena, Cookstown, Carrickfergus, Londonderry, Lisburn, Newry and Strabane also took part as a ‘flame ambassador’ from each town travelled to Stormont to collect part of the Paralympic Flame and take it back to their community.
Seven-year-old sports fanatic Marc McGarel, from Ballymoney, collected the flame for Strabane.
He was born with spina bifida and dreams of one day winning a gold medal at the Paralympic Games for archery.
Newry flame ambassador |Oliver Murphy is the only surviving member of the Irish team which competed at the first Paralympic Games in Rome 1960.
He is in his 70s and remains an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. In 2010 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Limerick for his dedication to improving the lives of people with disabilities.
Celebrations were held to mark the arrival of the flame in each community. Saturday’s festivities culminated with a lantern procession in Belfast. Agito, the Paralympic symbol featuring the colours of red, blue and green circling around a central point, was unveiled at Belfast’s City Hall.
Sports minister Caral Ni Chuilin said the ceremony reflected the inspiration of the games.
“The Paralympic Flame festivities in Ireland are a showcase for all that is good and positive about our society,” she said.
She praised the flame ambassadors who took the Paralympic flame to their home communities, and added: “I also wish all our athletes good luck in the Games.
“I hope they are successful in reaching all of their goals, be this taking part, exceeding personal bests or reaching the medal table.”
The Paralympics will see 4,280 athletes taking part in 503 events across 11 days of competition from August 29 to September 9.
The UK's four flames will unite in the home of the Paralympic movement — Stoke Mandeville — tomorrow.
Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said: “With less than a week to go until the biggest Paralympics ever, it's inspirational to hear about the achievements of the torchbearers who'll be shining a light on Northern Ireland.
“The Games are set to be a fantastic celebration of world-class sport,” he added.