GALWAY WELCOMES THE WORLD
They say the Irish know how to throw a party. And nowhere was that more apparent than on Sunday night in Galway, at the official opening ceremony for the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Ireland.
The crowd on Sunday evening, some 15 000 strong, followed the impressive showing overnight Saturday night when the fleet arrived in the small hours of the morning to an incredibly warm welcome.
Green Dragon may have been cheered the loudest for their podium finish on the transatlantic leg home, but sailors from all seven teams were left humbled and stunned by the reception they received.
"I'm lost for words. I'm flabbergasted," was the way Green Dragon skipper Ian Walker put it, his reaction typical of that of his colleagues. "Is the whole town here? Did anyone stay in bed tonight?"
It wasn't quite the whole town, but it wasn't far off. Close to 50 000 visitors streamed through the race village at the Galway Docks over the course of the weekend. Not bad for a place that didn't 'officially' open until 22:00 Sunday night. Or from a city with a listed population of under 73 000 souls.
The guests of honour at the opening ceremony Sunday evening included the seven race skippers, along with the Prime Minister of Ireland, Taoiseach Brian Cowen; the Mayor Galway, Padraig Conneely; Ireland's Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen; and the CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, Knut Frostad.
The Master of Ceremonies on opening night was Hector O hEochagain a national, Irish-language, television personality, who described the stopover it as the largest event of its type on the Irish coastline.
Performers included Frankie Gavin, as well as the Galway Tenors, who made a spectular entrance to the harbour on board a 'swan'.
The local organisers are expecting more than 200 000 visitors to the race village over the next two weeks and have arranged for a full calendar of free events at the Docks, including concerts and the Volvo Ocean Race experience.