seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Ireland Awarded the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games

On March 31, 1999, Ireland is selected as the location for the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games. It is the first time the event has been staged outside the United States. The organising committee, which is formed in 1999 following the success of the bid, is chaired by entrepreneur Denis O’Brien. The chief executive is Mary Davis.

The Games are hosted in Dublin, with participants staying in 177 towns, cities and villages and the Aran Islands in the lead up to the Games before moving to Dublin for the events. Events are held from June 21-29, 2003 at many venues including Morton Stadium, the Royal Dublin Society, the National Basketball Arena, all in Dublin. Croke Park serves as the central stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, even though no competitions take place there. Belfast is the venue for roller skating events at the King’s Hall, as well as the Special Olympics Scientific Symposium held on June 19-20.

Approximately 7,000 athletes from 150 countries compete in the Games in 18 official disciplines and three exhibition sports. The participants from Kosovo are the region’s first team at an international sporting event. A 12-member team from Iraq receives special permission to attend the games, despite ongoing war in their home nation. This is the largest sporting event held in 2003.

The opening ceremony is held in Croke Park and features an array of stars and is hosted by Patrick Kielty. The ceremony is officially opened by President of Ireland Mary McAleese and attended by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Performances include U2, The Corrs and the largest Riverdance troupe ever assembled on one stage. There are 75,000 athletes and spectators in attendance at the opening ceremonies. Irish and international celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jon Bon Jovi walk with the athletes, with Muhammad Ali as a special guest and Manchester United and Republic of Ireland football player Roy Keane taking the athletes oath with one of the Special Olympians. Nelson Mandela officially opens the Games.

The Games Flame is lit at the culmination of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, in which more than 2,000 members of the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland participate. This is a series of relays carrying the Special Olympics Torch, the “Flame of Hope,” from Europe to the Games’ official opening.

The 2003 Games are the first to have their opening and closing schemes broadcast on live television, and Raidió Teilifís Éireann provides extensive coverage of the events through their ‘Voice of the Games’ radio station which replaces RTÉ Radio 1 on medium wave for the duration of the event. There is also a nightly television highlight programme. A daily newspaper, the Games Gazette, was published for each day of the Games.

Among the activities carried out during the Games are thorough medical checks on the athletes, some of whom have previously undiagnosed conditions uncovered, as some of the athletes come from countries with limited medical facilities or have difficulty communicating their symptoms.

Among the contributors to the Games is the Irish Prison Service. Prisoners from Mountjoy Prison, Midlands Prison, Wheatfield Prison and Arbour Hill Prison construct podiums and make flags, towels, signs, benches and other equipment.


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Irish Protests of the War in Iraq

iraq-war-protestOn the evening of March 20, 2003, up to 2,000 people take part in a protest outside the United States Embassy at Ballsbridge in Dublin to voice their opposition to the war in Iraq. This is one of numerous protests held in response to the Irish Anti-War Movement‘s call on Irish citizens to mount mass protests against the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The group says thousands of workers, students and school pupils had taken part in stoppages and walk-outs throughout the day.

Richard Boyd Barrett, the chairman of the IAWM, says, “The complicity of the Irish government in this murderous war through providing facilities for the U.S. military at Shannon Airport is an absolute disgrace. “This war has little support among ordinary people and has provoked a wave of anger and revulsion. We call on the people of Ireland to come out in their thousands at 6:00 PM tonight to their town centre demonstrations to show this carnage is not being mounted in our names.”

Earlier in the day, several hundred protesters gather outside Dáil Éireann to protest the Irish Government‘s decision to continue allowing U.S. military aircraft use Shannon Airport. The Dáil is holding a six-hour debate on a Government motion which, among other topics, contains a clause permitting U.S. forces continued use of Irish airspace and facilities.

A 10-minute work stoppage at noon is observed by thousands of people, the IAWM claims. They say hundreds of students in University College Dublin, Dublin City University, University of Limerick and the Waterford Institute of Technology walked out, as did secondary school students in several schools in Dublin. Up to 1,000 students from second level colleges in Derry take part in an hour-long city centre protest. Around 50 health workers at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, staff at the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street and Collins Barracks and workers at the Motor Taxation office in Cork also stop work.

The NGO Peace Alliance says it is “extremely disappointed” at the Government’s refusal to condemn the attack on Iraq. “We call upon thousands of Irish people to reject this shameful position by thronging the streets of Dublin and other cities and towns next Saturday” said the alliance’s co-ordinator, Brendan Butler.

SIPTU‘s National Executive Council also interrupts their monthly meeting. “This war is not only unnecessary but illegitimate in the context of international law”, says Joe O’Flynn, SIPTU General Secretary.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions organises peace vigils on March 21 at the Spire of Dublin and other locations in various town and cities. Weekend anti-war protests take place in Dublin, Cork, Derry, Belfast, Galway, Sligo and Waterford.

(From: “Thousands protest against war at US Embassy” by Kilian Doyle, The Irish Times, March 20, 2003)