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Gold in Portland Row

'Even if Kellie hadn't won gold, we would have done this. It's because of who she is'

Portland Row and the whole north inner city flocked the streets to welcome their Olympic champion, Kellie Harrington, back home.

“I HAVEN’T SLEPT since the fight!” Helena Colton says.

Speaking to The Journal while waiting for Kellie Harrington to arrive back home to Portland Row in Dublin’s North Inner City, the local says that after the early-morning lightweight boxing final on Sunday, they tried to sleep later – but were kept awake by cars’ celebratory beeping as well-wishers drove by.

Monday was spent decorating the street for the homecoming. As Helena speaks, local community stewards are hanging up a huge, tricoloured balloon banner that stretches from one side of the road to the other. The famous Five Lamps have just three bulbs on – coloured green, white and orange.

When asked when the celebrations will stop, one local replies: “Probably 2024, before the Paris Olympics!”

Kellie Harrington 036

Every house has tricolour bunting stretching from the roof to the front garden. More Irish flags are selotaped to the stone walls. There are fold-up chairs and garden furniture placed out front. Some of the dogs along the street are wearing gold medals, tricolours, or Kellie Harrington t-shirts.

There are A4-sized posters in most windows either wishing Kellie good luck, or welcoming her back as an Olympic champion.

Behind Helena, her grandson sleeps in his father’s arms, wearing little white boxing gloves and a plastic gold medal.

He might be the next boxer, she says.

“We all got up at 5.30am on Sunday to watch the fight. Everyone chipped in to get a big screen for outside,” Helena says, pointing to where there’s now a group belting out ‘Simply the Best’ by Tina Turner.

She said the area needed a boost after the past 18 months: “Morale has been low, it’s been hard. But now, everybody went from feeling low, to ‘wow’!”

Patricia is from up the road in Phibsborough, and is sitting outside a house at the top of the road, though she knew the area growing up. She says she doesn’t know the woman in the house she’s sitting outside, but she’s offered her coffee while they wait for the Olympic bus.

Catherine, who owns the house and offered the coffee, leans over her wall and tells The Journal she’s looking forward to welcoming Kellie Harrington home. 

“Even if she hadn’t won gold, we would have done this for her,” she says.

The woman next to her nods, and adds: “It’s because of who she is.”

Helena agrees: “There’s not a person on this road who doesn’t love her… We’d roll out a red carpet for her if they’d let us.”

portland row 951 Olympic boxing champion Kellie Harrington waves from the top of an open-top bus as it heads down Portland Row. Sam Boal Sam Boal

Many locals mention that Kellie has been “brilliant” to the community, and great with the kids in the area – giving talks in her old school, and encouraging them to try out the sport. They also speak highly of her family, who are “the most down to earth” people.

Someone mentions that on Sunday, when a hurling semi-final was held in Croke Park, there was a queue of people waiting to take a photo of Kellie’s home. Another person says that she stopped a woman and asked her to point Kellie’s house out. It turned out that it was Kellie’s mother, who was “lovely” and did point out where it was.

Helena says that when a home in the area burnt down two years ago, Kellie auctioned off her 2015 National Elite belt and an Irish vest to help support the family, who had nothing left but the “clothes on their backs”.

Now, all along Portland Row, there are kids sparring with each other; one girl wears pink boxing gloves and a Kellie Harrington t-shirt; outside Kellie’s house, there’s a framed collage of messages of support and drawings by children.

Catherine Flood, who someone jokes is ‘the Lord Mayor of Portland Row’, says Kellie is “the best – there’s nothing put on about her.” 

She says that kids in the area weren’t given a chance before, but things have “changed around now”.

Speaking about Emmet Brennan, another Olympic boxer who also lives in the area, Flood says:

“We have two Olympians living eight minutes apart.

They didn’t get the credit they deserved before now. They’ve given the inner city and all of Ireland a lift.

On the short walk to Ballybough, the pubs are packed with Kellie supporters, a gold postbox stands outside a tricoloured Spar, and there are signs everywhere welcoming Kellie home.

On the corner where the Clonliffe House pub is, teenagers with balloons strapped to their bike handlebars that say “Go Kellie go!” wait for her to arrive. A sign across the road says “You can’t beat the Irish”. 

Helena Kelly of the Ballybough Gaelic 4 Mothers & Others club says that Kellie will be important for the young people in the area to look up to as a role model. 

“There are opportunities,” she says.”Money is being pumped into the area, and we have lots of successful sports people in the area. So hopefully the perception is changing.”

She adds that “Not every girl is a Disney princess,” and that Kellie is a great example for those kids.

Three-year-old best friends Kayla and Erin from Ballybough are both holding teddies of female Irish Olympians in one hand, and tricolours in the other as they wait for Kellie.

As she arrives on the open-top bus, holding up a flag with fellow Olympian Emmet Brennan, the crowd cheer and their phones go up to record the moment. Teenagers on bikes adorned with balloons and home-made signs follow the procession.

One guy chases after the bus and lobs one of the teddy Olympians up to Kellie – she picks it up and waves it around, and the crowd cheer back at her.

As the Olympic bus takes the turn onto Portland Row, the crowd starts chanting “Kellie, Kellie, Kellie”, and locals let off the golden balloons into the sky. Kellie is in tears, and shouts “oh my god”.

The bus then leaves the street and heads around the corner to drive by residents on other streets; a woman quickly comes along and tells the kids on Portland Row to stay put, as Kellie will be coming back for another lap.

The second time round, while passing Kellie’s home, someone in the crowd throws up a Simba teddy – a character from the Disney film The Lion King. Kellie has been known to quote a song from the film in her post-fight interviews – ‘Hakuna Matata’ (it means ‘no worries’).

Kellie raises Simba to the sky, mimicking one of the famous scenes from the film. The crowd laughs and cheers. The Olympic bus then disappears around the corner, with Kellie still holding Simba to the sky in one hand, and an Olympic gold medal in the other.

The crowd begins to ebb slowly homeward once she’s out of sight, with people stopping for a quick catch-up with friends and family they haven’t seen much of in the past 18 months before the road opens back up to traffic.

“That wait was worth it,” one person in the crowd says.

“Better than the Italia ’90 one, they sped by,” someone replies.

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