PORTAFERRY has no greater marketing tool than Ireland’s fastest woman, Ciara Mageean, who stepped off the Strangford ferry on Sunday to return home to rapturous applause, flags and embraces from family, friends and even the Fire Service.
Dark clouds overhead failed to turn away the crowds who showed up at the ferry terminal in their many hundreds to show their love and admiration for the 31 year-old, ‘who is Portaferry’.
Ciara is home for a short break after her recent achievements in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest when she came fourth in the 1500m and broke her own Irish record. She broke it again at a Diamond League meeting in Brussels two weeks ago.
Ciara arrived in Portaferry fresh from the final Diamond League Final race in Oregon in the United States.
Ciara is a three-time European Athletics Championship medallist in the event, with bronze in 2016 and silver in 2022 outdoors, and bronze in 2019 indoors. She also won silver at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
During this rare visit home, Ciara was treated to a tour of the shorefront in a flashy sports car, cheered on by wellwishers lining the streets, before taking centre stage at a special event at St Patrick’s Community Centre.
Led by local councillor Joe Boyle, Ciara’s homecoming resounded to the powerful sounds of Tina Turner’s trademark hit of champions, ‘Simply the Best’.
Mr Boyle remarked how in almost all of Ciara’s broadcast interviews she mentioned her home town of Portaferry, he said she was truly ‘the best marketing tool’ for the town.
Reflecting on Ciara’s success, coming fourth in the 1500 at the recent World Championships in Budapest, Joe reminded the audience that made her ‘the fastest Irish woman in history’.
Mr Boyle then treated her to a brief ‘This is Your Life’ style presentation when he invited on to the stage, Ciara’s mother, Catherine, and surprise guest, her former teacher, Elizabeth Collins from Assumption Grammar School in Ballynahinch.
Elizabeth told the audience how Ciara had shone out as an inspiring young leader who could be trusted ‘to get things done’ and to ‘lead the other girls’.
Elizabeth, who was also Ciara’s camogie coach, a sport she was dedicated to for many years up to her 20s, commented: “She was always a team leader and she was always the person who could get the other girls organised and if you wanted something done, Ciara was the one to do it. She was just wonderful.”
Ciara returned the words of admiration for her former teacher, who she said had ‘encouraged me so much’, and had helped her in numerous ways, from ‘teaching me how to manage my competitiveness’ to being pivotal to her passing her A-levels.
Ciara later said she was ‘blown away’ by the reception she received.
“I’m completely blown away. When my mum asked me about the date I’d be coming home I said I might be back for just a few days but I didn’t expect the community centre to be filled.
“I’m completely amazed and the community here is just phenomenal and I’m just so grateful,” she said.
“I will be home for probably a week for a bit of a rest and then next it’s back to Manchester to get back into training.
“I will decide whether to have a cross country season and then it’s all on then for the build up to the Olympics next year.”
On her future, Ciara said her efforts up to now have been geared towards achieving her success in the 1500m. “That’s been the focus, but maybe in the future the distance will change but for now it’s the 1500.”
Mum Catherine said though her daughter is home for a bit of a rest, she said she doubted whether she would be taking much down time, judging by her last trip home, last Christmas.
“She’s always thinking of other people,” she said, explaining that during that last visit Ciara nipped out to visit a local primary school.
“We thought she’d be about an hour but she was away for ages and we were wondering where she was but she was at the school getting her picture taken with the kids with her medals,” she said.
“She came back and even went out again to make sure that every single child got a picture of her with her medals,” she said proudly.
Among the wellwishers lining the streets and packing the community centre were her uncles Bob and Anthony Mageean who said ‘Ciara is Portaferry’.
“It’s just wonderful and you can see how much of a committed and accomplished girl that she is,” said Bob.
“When you see her on TV she is such a great ambassador for the town. She is Portaferry and Portaferry is Ciara.”
“But at the same time she is so grounded and it’s such an unbelievable achievement,” Anthony added. “Getting this far in her sport won’t come around again in our lifetime.”
Bob quipped that her exposure on the international stage and in the media had helped enlighten people on the correct pronunciation of their family surname.
Bangor woman Paula Simpson, a member of North Down Athletic Club, travelled to Portaferry to welcome Ciara, who she had the opportunity of running with in the past.
“I think she has been fantastic and for a young woman of just 31 she is such an inspiration to other young, up and coming runners,” she said.
“She is so down to earth and such a moral person and I got to meet her last year at a 20 mile run at the Maze when she was giving out the prizes.”
Local woman Catherine Sheridan had been awaiting Ciara’s arrival at the ferry, stating she had just wanted to come out to welcome home the arriving heroine ‘to show support for our local girl and for how well she has done’.
“I know that family, and her grandmother, Kate Mason who was a great GAA supporter and camogie player, like Ciara,” she said.
Ciara’s third cousin, Sophie Matthews was one of the many young children clamouring for an autograph of Portaferry’s famous runner, and she had come along with her brother, 12 year-old Kaiden and their mum, Suzelle, to show their support.
Representatives of the numerous sporting clubs Ciara has been enrolled in over the years packed the community centre, from the Ropeworth Runners, to the Ballygalget Athletic Club and Portaferry Triathlon.
Grainne Sweeney, who played camogie with Ciara in their youth with Portaferry recalled the runner’s prowess on the pitch, stating ‘Ciara could always run rings you’.
Ciara’s visit home follows her stint on Friday night on the Late Late Show when she spoke to newly installed presenter, Patrick Kielty.