Olympic torch crosses Irish border to tour Dublin
The Olympic flame arrived in Dublin on a cross-border peace mission on Wednesday to celebrate Northern Ireland reconciliation and strong British-Irish ties.
A high-speed convoy sped the symbol of the London Games to the Irish capital after a dawn ceremony at the border between the Republic of Ireland and the British territory of Northern Ireland.
There, two Olympic medal-winning boxers and former teammates — one a British Protestant from Belfast, the other an Irish Catholic from Dublin — embraced and held aloft their two torches. Belfast bantamweight Wayne McCullough, who won silver in Barcelona in 1992, lit the torch held by Michael Carruth, who won gold as a bantamweight 20 years ago. Then McCullough kissed his old friend on his bald head to laughs and cheers from a few hundred locals from both sides of the border.
Ireland's head of state, President Michael Higgins, officially welcomed the flame's arrival in Dublin at the Irish Olympic headquarters in the suburban fishing port of Howth. Several thousand spectators packed the harbour.
After another high-speed transit past rush-hour traffic along Dublin Bay, the flame took a panoramic tour on a newly opened walkway atop Croke Park, the 82,000-seat cathedral for Ireland's native sports of Gaelic football and hurling. Henry Shefflin, a 33-year-old former captain of Ireland's most dominant hurling team, Kilkenny, walked alone along the wind-swept concourse 132 feet (44 meters) above the ground.
Wednesday's events mark the high point of the torch's five-day tour of Northern Ireland and Dublin. A major street party is planned for Dublin's central park, Stephen's Green, following the torch's two-hour circuit of the capital. Another is planned that night in front of Belfast City Hall.
North of the border, police say they are deploying reinforcements to ensure that Irish Republican Army splinter groups do not disrupt the flame's evening procession through Belfast, 103 miles (165 kilometers) north.
On Sunday, IRA supporters jostling with police at a security barrier forced the torch to divert its course in Northern Ireland's second-largest city, Londonderry. That five-minute disruption has been the only trouble so far for the Olympic cavalcade. The event has highlighted how relatively calm Northern Ireland has become after a four-decade conflict that claimed 3,700 lives and five years of a stable Catholic-Protestant government.
Several small IRA factions do continue to oppose the 2005 decision of the major group, the Provisional IRA, to renounce violence and disarm, and have tried to make their presence felt during the Olympic visit.
On Wednesday shortly after midnight a grenade was thrown at a police vehicle on the outskirts of Catholic west Belfast after officers responded to reports of a house vandalism. Two civilian cars absorbed the brunt of the blast, and nobody was injured. The attack happened nowhere near the route of the Belfast torch relay.
On Saturday another grenade hit a police vehicle in a Catholic part of Londonderry as officers searched a home. That vehicle suffered heavy damage but no officers were hurt.
The flame is scheduled to leave Northern Ireland late Thursday for Scotland. More than 8,000 torchbearers are carrying the flame throughout the United Kingdom, and the British islands of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, in advance of the July 27-August 12 London Games.