Memories of the Time The Pakistan Special Olympic Team Came to Balbriggan
Special Olympics 2003
Balbriggan Host Town
The summer of 2003 saw the Special Olympics held outside of America for the first time in its history. Around 7000 athletes with special needs made their way to various towns around the country north and south.
Balbriggan was proud to welcome the delegation from Pakistan, and what a fantastic experience it turned out to be. The host town committee under chairperson, Therese Fingleton called for volunteers to look after the very special visitors to our town and the response was phenomenal. The volunteers came from all walks of life and what a great group of people they turned out to be.
The day arrived and our coach left Balbriggan at 11.45am to collect the first group of athletes from Dublin airport. After four trips with the last collection at 2am the next morning, the last of the athletes and delegation were taken to Balbriggan by police escort to their home in sunshine house. I couldn't start to thank all those who were involved in looking after our very special friends from Pakistan. Sunshine house with TJ, Mags, Mick, Alan and staff, you were all wonderful. The delegation and the athletes loved every minute of their stay in your beautiful caring home.
The schools also opened their doors to the delegation and athletes with visits from Ronak. Sairih, Sunita and Mahfooz to name but a few, where the pupils could see the various teams training for the games ahead. Our primary schools also played their part when children wrote poems relating to the visit of the Special Olympics. A book of these poems was published and on leaving Balbriggan each member of the Pakistan delegation and athletes received their copy to keep as a momento. Well done teachers, pupils and all concerned.
A visit to the Seamus Ennis centre in Naul was another wonderful experience for the athletes. When we arrived in Naul hundreds of people came in force to welcome this very special group from Pakistan and what an emotional welcome we received. The delegation got their first taste of Irish music, song and dance. It was a joy to see the athletes up dancing Irish traditional sets and having a fantastic time. A big thank you once again Naul.
Functions were also held during the week in the beautiful surroundings of the Bracken Court Hotel in Balbriggan. One of the most memorable nights for all involved was the final night held in the hotel to say farewell to our special guests which was attended by her excellency Mrs Rifat Iqbal and Mr & Mrs Mukadam and guests. Ronak, the assistant head of delegation, thanked the host town committee and the people of Balbriggan in an emotional speech, which described Balbriggan as their second home. The evening continued with a fantastic display of Irish dancing from Scoil Rince Cualann dancers, followed by traditional dance performed by some of the Special Olympic athletes themselves, all in full traditional dress. A fantastic night was had by all.
Sadly the day came for their departure to Dublin. During the game they performed with great courage and won a total of 88 medals. That's not all they won, they won the hearts of all those who were privileged to be involved with the host town volunteer group. Before the delegation left Balbriggan, I had the pleasure of presenting them with a number of videos, which captured their stay in Balbriggan so they can relive the time they had in Ireland 2003.
As the theme song for the Special Olympics goes "May we never say goodbye". We said our farewells but will never forget you all.
I would like to thank Tony Healy for including this on his website and the time we spent putting together this short history of the Special Olympics in Balbriggan.
Martin Fanning Nov 03 All Photos ©Martin Fanning