Bray, Ireland: Thousands of fans erupted with joy in the seaside town of Bray as their local hero Katie Taylor was crowned boxing lightweight champion in London’s ExCel Centre on Thursday night, bringing home Ireland’s first Olympic gold medal for 16 years.
“I’m thrilled. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened here,” said Martin Tuyley, a 43-year-old chef, as confetti was blasted into the sky.
“They’ll be on the streets singing tonight.”
An estimated 5,000 people gathered on a soccer pitch, a stone’s throw from Taylor’s home in Ballywaltrim, a suburb of Bray and at the foot of the Little Sugar Loaf mountain.
“She’s amazing, she’s an inspiration to the young people, she has the whole package,” said Colette Slocum, 48, a Bray housewife. “We’re so delighted, we’re all a little teary,” she added, standing close to an ice-cream van, metres away from one of the large TV screens set up in the town.
Relatively unknown outside of Ireland, Taylor’s face has dominated the front pages of Irish newspapers in recent months with all hopes of a gold medal resting on her shoulders.
“She has won the hearts and minds of the Irish people who admire her greatly and love her to bits,” said Prime Minister Enda Kenny, congratulating the athlete on her gold medal win.
Her gutsy performances in the ring, calm demeanour and dedication to winning a gold medal have won her many plaudits and fans across her homeland.
“She’s a great character for Ireland, she’s a great ambassador for all sport,” said Tadhg Murnane, 30, who had driven from Cork to watch the match live in Bray.
“It’s more than being a boxer or a fighter, she’s an awesome athlete,” he said, describing Thursday’s bout as “a piece of history”.
The four-time amateur world champion was a pioneer who had brought a whole new respectability to the sport, said Ita McGarry, 68, who walked to the big screens after catching a bus from the town centre.
“People with money have hockey and tennis. For boxing to become acceptable is really good,” she added.
Children waved flags from the shoulders of their parents in the crowd and her victory was celebrated with a thunderous roar, after a nail-biting few seconds before her win was confirmed.
Many had flocked from Dublin on the train to Bray, and its streets will be filled again on Monday evening when the town will welcome home the boxer with a ceremony and firework display on the seafront.
“We’re just so proud of her ... it’s the sense of an Irish girl following her dream,” said Jean Hickey, 41, who travelled with her family from North Dublin. “It’s a lovely story to follow.”