Ireland’s Olympic golden girl Kellie Harrington received a hero’s welcome as an open-top bus brought her back to her home street in Dublin.
Thousands turned out in Portland Row in the north inner city to give the boxing gold medallist a rapturous reception.
Harrington waved to the crowds and showed off her medal as she was joined by family members on the top deck of the bus.
At one point a well-wisher tossed her a toy Simba lion cub from the movie the Lion King, a nod to the fighter’s catchphrase at the Tokyo games, Hakuna Matata.
Harrington held it aloft, to loud cheers from the crowds.
The bus went up and down Portland Row twice.
Earlier, Harrington spoke of her pride at lifting the nation’s spirits as she landed back at Dublin Airport.
She said her next steps would be either another run at the next Olympics or turning her hand to the professional sport, saying it would be “Paris or pro”.
She told reporters at the airport she was looking forward to spending time with her family, her partner Mandy and her dogs.
“The whole nation has been on wheels, I think, since this started,” she said.
“It’s just fantastic to give people (something) to be smiling about, to be joyful for. Small but mighty we are, small but mighty.”
On Sunday, Harrington grabbed victory over Brazil’s Beatriz Ferreira by a unanimous points decision to become only the second Irish female boxer to win an Olympic medal after Katie Taylor’s gold in London 2012.
Her performance during the Olympics has turned the 31-year-old hospital cleaner into a star in Ireland, with her success marking the first time Ireland has won golds in two different sports at the same Olympics.
Rowers Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan triumphed in the men’s lightweight double rowing sculls earlier in the Games.
Touching down in Dublin, Harrington paid tribute to her teammates, saying: “It means the world to me to bring back the gold.
“But my mentality is, anybody who steps through those ropes and makes it to an Olympic Games is a champion, regardless of whether you bring a medal back or not.
“For me, it’s not always about winning medals and stuff like that. It’s about getting through the doors of the boxing club, for all the young people out there, all the teenagers out there.
“It’s about stepping through the doors first, meeting people and becoming part of a family then. Whatever happens after that is a bonus really.
“Boxing is an escape for a lot of people. I just hope that with the success that we’ve had out here, that we get a lot of funding now into local boxing clubs and we support local boxing clubs. That’s what we need.”
On her emotional reunion with her parents and partner Mandy Loughlin, the gold medallist said: “I have no tears left to cry. Normally I’m crying all the time
“They’re all bawling their eyes out. I’m really happy that it’s them instead of me this time.”
Belfast man Aidan Walsh, who secured the bronze medal in the welterweight contest, also arrived home to cheering crowds in an experience he described as “surreal”.
He told RTE: “It’s surreal to be honest, just because we’ve been living away for six weeks now in a bubble.
“People have been saying all week it’s going to be mad. I’ve been going: ‘I don’t think it will, I’m hoping to get into the car and get away up the road’.
“But this is amazing. I don’t know, I feel extremely lucky to be standing here.
“The whole team deserves medals and I’m just one of the lucky ones. I’m overwhelmed, it’s incredible, incredible.”
Asked what she would like to see emerge from her victory, Harrington said: “I’d love to see a lot more funding going into boxing. A lot more funding going into women’s sports.”
And she insisted she is not done with the sport yet, joking: “I’m not done yet. I know I’m going grey and all, but I’m not done yet.”
She added: “I’ll see. It’s either Paris or pro. It depends on the offers I’m going to get. We’ll see what offers come my way and I’ll do whatever’s best for me.”
But she dismissed questions over whether she could end up facing another Irish Olympic boxing hero – Katie Taylor – in the ring.
“I knew this was going to be the question. To me, that’s a question that shouldn’t even be asked. This is about my time, this is about me winning an Olympic medal,” she said.
“And I’m going to stick to that. She’s doing her thing, I’m doing my thing. Anybody else who asks me that question, that’s the answer.”
Kellie’s brother Christopher, who travelled home from Iceland to watch her Olympic triumph, said it is the “cherry on top” of her hard work.
“She has given up a lot and worked very, very hard over the years, consistently,” he said.
“It’s the pinnacle, she’s reached it. You can’t be anything but happy for her.”
A postbox outside the Summerhill post office, close to where Harrington grew up, was painted gold in anticipation of her arrival, while her estate, decked out with tricolours and banners, has drawn comparisons to the scenes that marked Ireland’s participation in the World Cup of Italia ’90.
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