Olympic torch spotlights Northern Ireland coast

The ruins of Dunluce Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge were among the sights it passed.

Torchbearer 020 Kiernan McLaughlin carries the Olympic Flame on the Torch Relay leg between Bellarena and Greysteel.
Torchbearer 020 Kiernan McLaughlin carries the Olympic Flame on the Torch Relay leg between Bellarena and Greysteel.

OLYMPIC TORCHBEARERS CARRIED the symbolic flame of the London Games to some of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful coastal attractions Monday, and then headed to two communities associated with moments of terror.

This week’s tour of Northern Ireland is putting an international spotlight on dramatically improved times in the British territory, where a ceasefire observed by most Irish Republican Army members since 1997 has allowed a lasting peace process to blossom.

But police say several small IRA factions still lurking in the background would like to disrupt the celebrations and they have deployed extra officers to suppress the threat. In Derry, the final destination for Monday’s Olympic procession, police closed a road after spotting a potential IRA bomb at a junction near a Catholic high school. But British Army bomb disposal engineers declared it a hoax. The bomb alert took place away from the torch’s planned route in a district.

And the start to Monday’s torch relay provided a dream for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, with three of the most memorable sights along the northern coast basking in rare sunshine.

Two torchbearers met in the middle of the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, a vertigo-inducing attraction that connects mainland cliffs to a tiny island, with one using her flame to light the other’s torch.

Next, another torchbearer walked carefully along the Giant’s Causeway, an up-and-down natural stairway composed of tens of thousands of six-sided basalt rocks that run right into the Atlantic. The carrier, 54-year-old Ironman athlete Peter Jack, said he had to concentrate not to slip or stumble on the wet, flat-topped columns of basalt. About 1,000 spectators and visitors cheered as he reached the highest rock nearest the waterline and raised the flame.

It next visited the ruins of Dunluce Castle, a cliffside residence that was abandoned after its kitchen and staff fell one night into the Atlantic. Then the day’s torch relay properly began near Coleraine. The flame was loaded onto an eight-man rowing boat and ferried across the Bann, the major river of Northern Ireland that cuts the province into a predominantly Protestant east and mostly Catholic west.

The route west kept torchbearers hugging the broad-beached coast. Up ahead lay the villages of Ballykelly and Greysteel, names synonymous with two of the worst mass killings of Northern Ireland’s conflict.

In December 1982 in Ballykelly, an IRA splinter group called the Irish National Liberation Army killed 17 people and wounded 30 with a time bomb left in a crowded disco frequented by British soldiers from a nearby base. The small bomb, placed beside a pillar, made the roof collapse. Eleven of the dead were soldiers, the other six local Protestant women and teenagers. It was the second-worst death toll from a Northern Ireland bombing, overtaken only by the Omagh bombing of 1998, when a car bomb by the Real IRA faction killed 29 civilians.

Greysteel, a mostly Catholic village on the road to Derry, entered world headlines in October 1993, when anti-Catholic militants from the outlawed Ulster Defence Association burst into a pub full of party-goers celebrating Halloween, shouted “Trick or treat!” and tried to shoot everyone inside. Eight civilians died and 13 were wounded in the Rising Sun Bar. The Olympic cavalcade passed a plaque outside the pub honoring the eight dead that reads: “May their sacrifice be our path to peace.”

Gavin Cooney
Reports From Qatar

Get Gavin's exclusive writing and analysis from the 2022 Fifa World Cup

Become a Member

Derry planned a sold-out, 12,000-ticket street party for the torch’s arrival Monday night. The torch route includes a journey across the new pedestrian Peace Bridge connecting the city’s mostly Protestant east and Catholic west.

The torch travels Tuesday through more than a dozen Northern Ireland towns and villages, including Omagh. On Wednesday, it crosses the border for a circuit of Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland, before returning north for a tour of Belfast and party outside Belfast City Hall.

Read: In pictures: Olympic flame taken on a tour of Northern Ireland>

Read: Bellamy claims he will get Olympic call-up>

About the author:

Associated Press

Read next: