Belfast Telegraph

Hardy band carry Northern Ireland’s Paralympic flame to summit of Slieve Donard as Games fever is rekindled

By David Young

It was sparked into life on Northern Ireland’s highest peak before embarking on a symbolic journey.

The Paralympic flame survived wind and swirling mist as it was created on top of Slieve Donard by scouts yesterday morning.

They had trekked up to the highest point in the Mountains of Mourne to take part in the windswept ceremony.

A hardy troupe of volunteers, they were made up of non-disabled and disabled participants and accompanied by police and mountain rescuers on their early morning hike.

The flame team began their arduous climb in the dark at exactly 6.14am and reached the summit a few hours later.

At the peak, they sparked the Paralympic flame into being by striking a ferrocerium rod against a steel surface.

Meanwhile, teams of scouts were also at the top of the highest peaks in England (Scafell Pike), Wales (Snowdon) and Scotland (Ben Nevis) also creating their own Paralympic flame.

The four individual flames will be transferred to their respective capital cities where they will each become the focus for a day of Paralympic celebrations.

Once kindled, the scouts on Slieve Donard placed it in a miner’s lantern.

They then carefully carried it down the mist-shrouded mountain on foot.

The lantern will later travel 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 cele

bration 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.

The Northern Ireland torch was lit by Bernadette Sloan from Warrenpoint.

The keen hill walker is blind and was accompanied to the summit by her guide Danny McSherry.

“It was one of the best moments of my life,” she said after the descent.

“It was an absolute privilege to have been given the honour of lighting the flame. 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.

“Now I just want to wish all the Paralympic athletes all the best for London.”

Factfile

The arduous 2,800ft ascent to the top of Slieve Donard started before dawn with the team reaching the top before 10am. Scouts used the time-honoured method of rubbing flint together to create the sparks — although it took 20 minutes to get a flame lit due to 40kph gusts at the top.

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