Irish celebrate best Olympic medal haul in 50 years

DUBLIN Mon Aug 13, 2012 2:29pm EDT

Gold medallist Katie Taylor of Ireland celebrates during the presentation ceremony for the Women's Light (60kg) boxing competition at the London Olympic Games in this August 9, 2012 file photograph. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/Files

Gold medallist Katie Taylor of Ireland celebrates during the presentation ceremony for the Women's Light (60kg) boxing competition at the London Olympic Games in this August 9, 2012 file photograph.

Credit: Reuters/Murad Sezer/Files

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DUBLIN (Reuters) - Thousands took to the streets of towns across Ireland on Monday to welcome back the country's most successful Olympic team since 1956, led by women's lightweight boxing gold medal winner Katie Taylor.

Ireland's haul of one gold, one silver and three bronze medals was the country's best showing since the 1956 Games in Melbourne, when Ronnie Delany won the 1,500 meters gold.

Four of the five medals were in boxing, with Cian O'Connor winning the bronze in individual show jumping.

Pictures of the team's plane arriving at Dublin airport, flanked by four fire engines, were broadcast live on national television, with Taylor leaning out of the cockpit window with an Irish flag.

"I'm just overwhelmed. This is just incredible," said Taylor to a crowd of several thousand people, many dressed in green and waving Irish flags, in her home town of Bray, just south of Dublin.

"I wouldn't be in this situation without all the support I got over the last few years. The support I got in the ExCel Arena over there (in London), it blew my mind," she said.

A four-times world champion, Taylor was at the forefront of the campaign to get women's boxing into the Olympics for the first time and was the overwhelming favorite for the title.

Thousands were also gathered in Mullingar in the Irish Midlands, home to bantamweight silver medal winning boxer John Joe Nevin.

Bronze medal boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan were due to attend a reception in Belfast.

The strong Olympic showing comes after a disappointing European Championship soccer tournament, in which the Irish team lost all three matches, and at a time when the country is struggling to recover from economic recession.

"We are in a serious economic situation, but you lifted the souls, the minds of the hearts of the country," sports minister Michael Ring told the athletes.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Matt Barker)

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