Thousands of people have lined the streets in Belfast on Sunday to witness the historic moment the Olympic Torch arrived in Northern Ireland.
Shortly after dawn the Torch Relay — involving hundreds of local heroes — began in the shadow of the new Titanic Belfast building.
During the first 24 hours, the famous Olympic flame was carried by 132 inspirational people travelling through Belfast, North Down and Newtownabbey.
The Olympics flame then made its journey along the stunning backdrop of the Antrim coast, ending the 16th day of the UK relay in Portrush.
It was 6am when the first leg of the 126-mile relay was run by torchbearer Karen Marshall from Tynan.
Karen, who had Crohn's disease for 14 years, was selected because of her volunteer work on the events committee at St Vindic's Parish Church, Tynan, and with charity REACT (Reconciliation Education and Community Training).
A crew of 350 people were involved in the running of the operation.
At all times during the opening day the torch was surrounded by a tight, efficient security team in grey uniform.
Each location was given a specific time of arrival and specially adapted coaches to carry runners and torches, and police outriders were part of a huge convoy.
By 7am the Olympic flame and entourage were warmly welcomed in a chilly Bangor.
Despite the early hour, the event still ignited a spark of excitement and people lined the streets cheering as they caught a glimpse of the flame. Ice-skater Dempsey Andrews, Cool FM DJ Pete Snodden and anti-drugs campaigner Peter Brittain were the selected torchbearers in early morning Co Down run.
Among those happy to be up early to be part of the steady crowds were John and Catherine Kelly, their daughter Neve and dog Ruby.
“It was well worth getting up for, definitely,” Mr Kelly said.
The relay route then travelled through Comber, Newtownards and Dundonald before arriving at Stormont just after 9am.
The crowds had slowly built up with hundreds of people braving the cold weather.
Cheers erupted when Geraldine McCann from Lurgan, Co Armagh, carried the torch up the famous steps of Stormont.
Smiling, she stood proudly and raised the torch aloft in one hand in front of Parliament Buildings.
“It was just unbelievable,” the 56-year-old said. After posing briefly for photographs with the Sports Minister and other MLAs, the relay was quickly restarted.
As it left Belfast, a sea of people filled the route, from Newtownabbey to Carrickfergus.
Clutching cameras, flags and even mugs of hot tea along the route, a sense of goodwill grew as it got closer to Carrickfergus.
Along the jam-packed road, torchbearers posed for pictures with family, friends and the public — some even in pyjamas.
As the flame was passed on in front of the historic Carrickfergus Castle, a huge cheer erupted from the surrounding crowd.
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said the Torch Relay was a “celebration of sport, culture and our local heroes”.
“This really is our opportunity to shine and showcase our cities, beautiful scenery and, most of all, the people who live here,” she said.
Geraldine McCann (56) from Lurgan said:
“It was just such a surreal moment running up the steps of Stormont with the Olympic Torch. It was just unbelievable.
“To have the crowds, my family, my work colleagues here to watch me carry the torch is just a wonderful moment.
“I was nominated because of the money I raised for cancer charities.
“My mummy and daddy both died of cancer and then my husband was diagnosed and I started to run for cancer charities. It will be a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life. You will never get an experience like it again.”
Walter Carswell from Lisburn (74) said:
“I never thought I would do anything like this in my life!
“I’m a volunteer with Action on Hearing Loss, that’s the institute for the deaf. They nominated me.
“I never, ever thought I would be selected.
“I was so proud to lift the torch and carry it. It is hard to get into your head that it is actually happening. It is just unbelieveable.
“My family are here to support me and cheer me on, the atmosphere is just fantastic—everyone has a smile on their face. It is a day I won’t forget.”
Des Hassan (60) from Coleraine said:
“I was nominated by my company for the work I have done with young people. I have worked with the Boys’ Brigade for over 40 years in the Coleraine area and the Northern Ireland Milk Cup.
“Words can’t explain what this means. You are representing your family, your workmates and especially the Boys’ Brigade. It is a real honour to carry the torch.
“My wife Georgie, daughter, son, daughter-in-law and son-in-law are all here... but I’m running with my granddaughter Holly— she’s six, so she will be able to tell people when she grows up about today. It will be a special memory.”
John McAlpine (53) from north Belfast said:
“A girl I work with does voluntary work in the Children’s Hospice. I started painting canvasses with cartoon characters on them and then raffled them off. The money would go to the hospice.
“Being picked to run with the torch, I thought it was part of a joke and then it got serious when I started getting phonecalls from London and the tracksuit came.
“But it’s history, isn’t it? You will never see this again in Northern Ireland, well not in my lifetime anyway. I just feel proud.”
By Raymond Kilpatrick
The world famous north Antrim coast provided the ideal backdrop for the visit of the Olympic Torch.
The flame arrived in Ballycastle from the Glens just before 5pm.
A party atmosphere had descended from early morning with the seafront staging a country market as well as a range of entertainment for all ages.
Many children clutched homemade replicas of the torch to line the route through the town centre.
Moyle District Council chairman Padraig McShane said there was a real sense of pride at getting to showcase their area.
“From its inception at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, the torch relay has had to wait a long time before it has had a chance to pass through the villages and towns of Moyle,” he said.
“Enormous work has gone into this event from a wide variety of statutory and community groups, and everyone is looking forward to today's events.”
Chris Bell, who works at the Central Bar in Ballycastle, said the town had been buzzing in anticipation of the flame's arrival.
“There is a real sense of what an historic occasion this is and I think it's absolutely fabulous,” he said. “The atmosphere is great and it's brilliant to see so many tourists about. It has really brought everyone together.”
One of those carrying the torch was Army medic Kylie Watson from Ballymena, who received the Military Cross last year for her bravery in Afghanistan.
Kevin Bartlett, Jon Devlin and Paul Gray made up the Ballycastle relay team.
Despite the sun having subsided by late afternoon, locals were determined nothing would overshadow the occasion.
The flame then moved inland to the village of Dervock which boasts a bond with the Olympics.
Gareth McGee and Adrian McEIvanna were on-hand to carry the flame through the packed village from which hailed 1912 Olympic gold-winning marathon runner Kennedy Kane McArthur.
Locals donned Edwardian clothing after taking inspiration from the style of those featured in pictures of McArthur's triumphant return to north Antrim.
Dervock and District Community Association member Steven Phillips said it was a very special day for everyone in the village.
“It’s been a long, hard slog just to get the torch here in the village but we thought it would always come eventually,” he said.
“This means everything to the people of Dervock, at last recognition that one of our village sons achieved a great result in the Olympic Games and a place in history for himself and Dervock.”
Having been carried down the Carncullagh and Castlecatt Roads, it made its way to Bushmills.
Its arrival was greeted with rapturous applause by the crowd of all ages as it made its way through the centre of the town.
It would have been a tall order for Finn McCool himself to overshadow the sense of occasion.
Niall Finnegan was first to carry it before passing it on to Michael Henry and Victoria Walsh (inset).
The lucky few selected to carry the flame opted for soft drinks after completing their stint rather than a wee dram of Bushmills's most famous export — whiskey.
However, it will no doubt be used by many as the toast of choice after a memorable day.
A crowd of all ages lined the route as it made its way through the centre of Bushmills, before going on to Portrush.