THE sun shone for Aoife McMahon’s ‘homecoming’ and hundreds of people came out to congratulate her on winning a gold medal in table tennis at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi the previous week.
At 3pm, a Gárda car with flashing lights and siren sounding, arrived at Fax Bridge roundabout, followed by Aoife, her table tennis trainer Ivan Shorten and Sarah Hayes (Rosscarbery), who was a volunteer at the Abu Dhabi Games – all transported by Patrick O’Sullivan driving his polished 1932 open top Rolls Royce car. Piper Michael Heaney belted out the tunes as the large assembled crowd cheered and waved their tricolours.
Mayor of Clonakilty Gretta O’Donovan congratulated Aoife and the entourage, preceded by the local Red Cross vehicle and HSE ambulance, made its way through the town centre. All along the route, people lined the footpaths waving tricolours and applauded as Aoife passed by, joining in behind to swell the crowd in the parade. As it passed a number of businesses, staff members downed tools and came out to cheer too!
A large crowd had assembled at Asna Square, and led by the piper more joined in as the lively parade made its way through Pearse Street and into Emmet Square, where the tricolour had been hoisted by the County Council for the occasion. Anthony McDermott, founding member of Clonakilty Special Olympics Club, was MC for the occasion, and called on Mayor Gretta O’Donovan to address the crowd of several hundred flag-wavers now inside the Kennedy Gardens.
Gretta praised all involved in Aoife’s success, including the Cope Foundation, table tennis coach Ivan Shorten, Clonakilty Special Olympics Club and her proud supportive family who were present on the day. Ger Ahern, manager of the Cope Centre where Aoife attends, thanked all involved and praised Aoife’s dedication over the years. Her proud table tennis coach, Ivan Shorten, also referred to Aoife’s dedication to practising and the huge commitment in the lead-up to the World Games, when she had to go to Dublin weekly to train with the rest of the team.
Rose Dempsey, founding chairperson and manager of Clonakilty Special Olympics Club, said that Aoife has been a member of the club since its foundation in 2005 and was always enthusiastic, committed and dedicated. She recalled her participation in golf, basketball, equestrian and her all-round interest in most sports and that Aoife had gone as far as the Ireland Games on a couple of other occasions in the past. She thanked, in particular, all the volunteers of the Clon SO Club over the years, who support the athletes like Aoife.
Aoife herself then got a huge cheer as she took the microphone. In a wonderful, articulate speech, she thanked everyone who had supported and helped her over the years, including all the previous speakers and her family. To the strains of ‘Congratulations’ with DJ Darren Lawless on the controls, the whole of Kennedy Gardens rocked and cheered in congratulating Clon’s greatest hero.
On behalf of all at the Cope Centre, Lar O’Donovan presented Aoife with a bouquet of flowers. Orla McMahon, Aoife’s sister, thanked everyone for their support for Aoife and the great welcome home she had received. With the formalities over, Michael Heaney led the crowd on the pipes in ‘Amhrán na bhFiann.’ Afterwards, Darren Lawless continued the music as people congratulated Aoife and queued for photos and ‘selfies’ with her in the wonderful sunshine – which was most appropriate for the occasion. Further photos on the Clonakilty Special Olympics Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ClonSpecialOlympicsClub