With five precious pieces of additional luggage in tow, Team Ireland’s Olympic squad arrived home on Monday afternoon after playing their part in the country’s most successful Games since 1956.
The public clamour of Italia 90 was noticeable by its absence in Dublin Airport but the welcome back to Irish shores was no less warm as proud friends and family packed out a small reception to greet sons, daughters, brothers and sisters — their heroes.
Olympic champion Katie Taylor led the team off the chartered Aer Lingus aircraft shortly before 2pm, flanked by her fellow boxing medallists John Joe Nevin, Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes.
Cian O’Connor, who returned home to Ireland last week after winning showjumping bronze, joined the rest of his team-mates for the first part of what will surely be a long list of homecoming celebrations.
Minister for Sport Michael Ring TD, Northern Ireland Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and Lord Mayor of Dublin Naoise Ó Muirí were among those present.
With an official welcome scheduled for Dublin’s Mansion House on Wednesday, members of the public were advised not to travel to Dublin Airport.
Anxious to catch a glimpse of the squad, more than a hundred fans ignored that warning and waited patiently in the Terminal 2 arrivals hall for the athletes to filter through.
Beyond the barrier, Olympic Council of Ireland President Pat Hickey proclaimed the Games to have been “a tremendous success” for Ireland.
“We went away as a team and we came back as a stronger team,” Hickey said. “A family team with no problems between anybody, with great comradeship and we’re so happy to be back.”
Chef de Mission Sonia O’Sullivan also highlighted the bond between the athletes for particular praise.
"It’s very easy for us to focus on our medal winners — Katie, Paddy, John Joe, Michael and Cian – but I believe that their success was helped along the way by the very positive team spirit and positive energy that I always hoped would be the core element of each team member’s experience of these Olympic Games.
"I’m very proud to have been part of this team and I believe for the first time in all of my Olympic experiences, the Olympic spirit transpired throughout the team in the visible support and encouragement the athletes gave to each other."
“Heroes” was the word used by Minister Ring as he saluted the returning team.
“I as Minster for Sport have a job to go in and negotiate for funding every year,” he said.
“I will have to go back to government again and I want to thank the team. I want to thank everyone who took part in the Olympics in London because any government minister, whether he’s in finance or any other department, cannot but give me more money now after the success we had.
“Money’s big in sport. It’s better than putting it into hospitals, into consultants, into doctors. The more that we can get people participating in sport, the better.”
The homecoming celebrations will continue into Monday evening with local events planned in Bray, Mullingar and Belfast.