AS the sun shone down on Donard Park in Newcastle, County Down, a crowd gathered to watch the arrival of the Paralympic Flame which had been lit at the summit of Slieve Donard mountain.
Scouts from Banbridge and Bangor accompanied Bernie Sloan who is visually impaired and her guide Danny McSherry up Slieve Donard in an early morning climb to light the flame which will eventually find its way to the London Paralympic Games.
Banbridge Scout Daniel O’Mahoney, who has had an amputation of his lower left leg, explained: “It was quite a tough climb up Slieve Donard. We left very early at 6.15am and this was my first time up the mountain. I have taken part in a 37 Km walk before and that too was tough. But it was very enjoyable. A great challenge. We arrived at the summit at 9am.”
Scout leader Richard Dorian said: ‘It was really an excellent walk up Slieve Donard, but when we got up past the Gap the wind picked up very strongly. And as we approached the last phase the mist came down very heavily. On the summit we rested then set about lighting the Paralympic Flame. This took about 40 minutes as the wind was so strong. Eventually we managed to get a spark into the dry tinder and secured a light which we transferred to the flame holder.
“At one point the weather was not great and some of us had on gloves, our anoraks and hats. But we kept on going until we reached the summit.”
The Paralympic Flame was accompanied down Slieve Donard by a Metropolitan police officer and as the group of climbers arrived in Donard Park U105 radio presenter John Daly gave them a resounding welcome. The scouts were interviewed on stage and John Daly also chatted to Bernie Sloan who walked to the summit with the help of her guide Danny.
Bernie explained: “We had climbed Slieve Donard the week before. It was quite an experience. I am just delighted today the weather was ok, It is just great there is such a crowd here to welcome the Paralympic Flame.”
Down District Council Chairman Councillor Mickey Coogan welcomed the walkers down off Slieve Donard and said: “On behalf of all of us gathered here today and on behalf of the whole country I would just like to welcome you all with this inspiring symbol of the Paralympic Games. This is the first stage of its journey to London.
“”This morning, while most of us were still in bed, these young Scouts made a 2789 feet ascent on Slieve Donard. Their aim was to light the flame and bring it down to Donard Park. I understand conditions at the top of the mountain were not very good but like true Scouts they got the job done.
‘They used the traditional method of rubbing flints to kindle a flame, which demonstrates the power of human endeavour and teamwork.
“In a few days the flame they lit will be joined with other flames lit on the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales, and together they will form the 2012 Paralympic Flame… a symbol to inspire the world.
“After the Olympic warm up a few weeks ago, all eyes around the world will now be fixed on London where they will demonstate the best sportmanship at the very highest level, with skills honed by determination and true grit.”
Councillor Coogan added: ” The paralympians have earned their moment to shine and all our good wishes go with them to the 2012 games and beyond.”
Down News chatted to paralympian Mary who won a bronze medal in the 1996 games in the 200m and a silver in 2000 for the 400m. She was enjoying the event with her son Nathan and said: “This event is the start of one of the world’s major sporting spectacles and I wish all the competitors all the very best in their endeavours. Lighting the flames on the four peaks is a great way to get the whole country behind these games.”