Olympic Torch crosses Irish border


The Olympic Torch has crossed the Irish border on an historic visit to the Republic today in a symbol of the peace process.

Irish Olympic boxing medallists Wayne McCullough and Michael Carruth took part in an early morning hand over ceremony witnessed by Games chief Lord Seb Coe at a remote spot between Newry in Northern Ireland and Dundalk in the Republic.

Mr McCullough said: "I am from the Shankill Road in Belfast, I have never had any problems like religion.

"It is a major step for everybody, people are coming together.

"Boxing was always a sport where Protestant and Catholic came together."

Dubliners have been called on to line the streets of the capital as it tours the only city outside the UK after special permission was granted for the torch to leave the jurisdiction of the host country.

Jedward, jockey Ruby Walsh, former footballer Paul McGrath and Olympic winning runners Sonia O'Sullivan and Ronnie Delany will be among the 40 torchbearers taking part in the relay.

Crowds of local people watched and cheered as McCullough, who won welterweight gold in the 1992 Games, passed the flame to Carruth, who took bantamweight silver in the same tournament.

School children from both sides of the border lined up to watch the ceremony.

The Irish side had an Irish Wolfhound, his shaggy coat matted in the constant drizzle as well as people in period dress carrying replica swords and spears. They are enacting the Tain March, dressed as the army of Queen Maeve of Connaught and are in the area for several days.

Mr McCullough, who lives in Las Vegas, said he learned of his role in the relay from his wife at home, who had read it in the newspapers.

He carried the Irish flag in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and said it had been 24 years since he saw the flame.

"It is pretty awesome. This was something I was looking forward to all week, to do something cross-community and meet my good buddy Michael Carruth," he said.

"It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am honoured to be doing it.

"It was like going into the Olympic final again, you get emotional, it was almost like I was about to fight again."

There was amiable chat between Mr Carruth and Mr McCullough. Mr McCullough even planted a kiss on Mr Carruth's cheek, at the border - a nondescript point on the old Dublin Road with only a disused shed for a backdrop with a green hill in the distance.

Mr Carruth said: "It is fantastic, the torch is what is good about sport.

"It is a fantastic occasion for everyone, north and south of the border."

Pat Hickey, president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), said the crossing of the border is a way of celebrating peace in Northern Ireland for the last 15 years.

"The OCI is the Olympic committee for the island of Ireland so how could you have the torch in part of the island and not coming down to the capital of the Republic?" he added.

"We are going to have a spectacular day."

More than 5,000 people are expected in Howth as Irish president Michael D Higgins greets the first Dublin torchbearer, teenager Cillian Kirwan, during a civic ceremony outside the OCI offices.

The convoy will move on to Croke Park - the home of GAA - where Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin will carry the torch 44 metres high above Croke Park stadium along the Skyline walkway.

The torch will then pass several landmarks including the Garden of Remembrance, GPO and IFSC, it will go over Samuel Beckett Bridge, along the Grand Canal, and pass St Patrick Cathedral, Christchurch and Dublin Castle before going to Government Buildings on Merrion Square and arriving at St Stephen's Green for a celebration.

Gardai have appealed to pedestrians and motorists to be patient during rolling road closures in Howth from 8am to 8.30am and in the city centre between 9.40am and 12.30pm.

Leaving and Junior Certificate students sitting state examinations should also allow extra time to get to their schools in the areas.

The Olympic Torch's tour of Ireland began in Belfast on Sunday, with 400 torchbearers taking part in a five-day relay around Northern Ireland.

It returns to Belfast, where there will be evening celebrations, before going to Scotland on Thursday night.