‘LOOK out there now,’ Gary O’Donovan said as we chatted in the corner of Áras an Uachtaráin where the Francini Corridor and the State Dining Room meet.
‘Look, there’s Michael D Higgins walking around, chatting to people from Skibbereen, taking photos with them, in his own house!
‘This is huge for the people of Skibbereen and the rowing club. The honour of being invited to come to this place – how many people get the chance to do this? Not that many. We are a select few. This is very special.’
Gary nailed it: this was special.
He was on one of the two buses that left Skibbereen Rowing Club at 9am last Saturday, bound for Áras an Uachtaráin and the special reception that President Higgins and his wife Sabina hosted in honour of Skibbereen Rowing Club.
Gary’s an Olympic silver medallist but much more than that, he’s a member of Skibbereen Rowing Club.
You can never forget where you come from, he insists. That’s why Saturday’s gathering at Áras an Uachtaráin was so memorable, it was the chance to share a unique event with the people who helped make Gary and Paul O’Donovan’s success possible, sentiments that Mark O’Donovan, Shane O’Driscoll and Denise Walsh would echo in a heartbeat.
‘We always say that we could never do what we do unless the doors of the rowing club were open,’ Gary explained.
‘I have often said it goes deeper than the people who are directly involved in the rowing club. You have the coaches, the parents who come in and help out, the people who help out at regattas – but it goes deeper than that. You have the people who allow those people come and help the rowing club, you have family and friends that allow their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters to come, volunteer and help the club. This runs deep.
‘This is one of these special days where you get to show those people what they have done is worthwhile and important. This is proof that what they are doing is so important and we couldn’t do what we are doing without them.’
Not surprisingly, President Higgins had plenty of kind words for all of Skibb’s rowers and club members, and especially for Gary and Paul.
‘Over one year ago in Rio de Janeiro, the O’Donovan brothers brought Irish rowing to the attention of the world, and to see them on the podium collecting their medals was an enormously proud, uplifting moment for the whole country,’ President Higgins said.
‘There was something very special, human and authentic about their account of their effort, their preparation for it, and the honest pleasure of having achieved an excellence that put them together with the best in the world.’
The reason they are amongst the best in the world is thanks to the people behind Skibbereen Rowing Club. And Gary agreed before, and as surreal as it sounds, he headed back into the State Dining Room and a few more words with President Higgins. It was that sort of day.