Helen Kearney arrives home with Paralympic comrades

Paralympics star Helen Kearney received a rousing reception in her hometown of Dunlavin on Saturday afternoon as over 1,500 cheering supporters turned out.

Paralympics star Helen Kearney received a rousing reception in her hometown of Dunlavin on Saturday afternoon as over 1,500 cheering supporters turned out.

Having claimed one silver and two bronze medals on the back of a horse at the Paralympics in London, Kearney soaked up the atmosphere on Saturday from the comforts of a horse-drawn carriage, as she was paraded through the packed town.

“The reception was fantastic,” Kearney told the Leinster Leader. “I’ve never seen so many people in Dunlavin at the one time.”

Although she won individual silver and bronze medals, Kearney’s highlight was the team dressage bronze her silver helped to secure.

“We were sixth after the first day. There were 16 teams so that was a good position. To come third was an amazing achievement.”

Despite being at the centre of all the goings on, the 23-year-old was slightly disappointed to “miss out on the hype back home”. However London was a home away from home, with family and friends over to support her. Among her entourage was her groom Kate Solon from Naas, while her coach is from Carbury.

They were not the only Kildare natives involved, as Newbridge man Sean Baldwin became Ireland’s first shooter at a Paralympic Games, competing in four events. Having set two personal bests, he described himself as “happy overall”.

The 44-year-old only took up the sport last year and he says just qualifying for London was a bonus, with his sights set on the next games. “Rio was always my target. But the experience was amazing.”

Baldwin says the support from both British and Irish was “brilliant” and there was a great atmosphere around the Olympic Village, even if he didn’t spend much time there. “I was up at six every morning for training and back at five,” he says. “But it was great. Everyone had something going on.”

While the athletes returned home last Monday, other members of the team came home earlier, including Private Paddy Gately from Kildare Town, a member of the army in the Curragh. He was groom to Eilish Byrne and returned home with the horses on the Thursday before the Games ended.

However, he got to meet up with the equestrian team including Helen Kearney last Tuesday, when a reception was held for them at the Curragh Camp.

“It was great to be part of it,” said Pte Gately, who was surprised and delighted by the team’s bronze medal finish. It was the first time Ireland had qualified for the team equestrian event. “We were hoping to finish in the top 10. When they announced it, it was just a great feeling. It was unreal.”

- Liam Godinho