"That's too bad altogether," said Ronnie. "If we were on schedule I'd expect my father to meet me. But at half 3 in the morning, nobody will be here. I suggest we go to a hotel in Limerick and sleep a few hours."
A few minutes later an astounded Ronnie Delany found himself in the midst of a wildly cheering crowd of several hundred that included not only his father but his mother and his brothers Joe and Paddy and his sister Colette, and pretty Elisabeth MacArthur herself. There were a dozen pressmen from the Dublin newspapers and photographers and a rather tense press conference (Sample question: "Will you continue to run?" Sample answer: "Well, I'm 21 years old. What do you want me to do—retire?"). Lord Killanin, the president of the Irish Olympic Council, was there and Captain Theo Ryan, the president of the Crusaders, Ronnie's athletic club, and stocky, gray-haired Billy Morton, Dublin's promoter of amateur track events and the man who first proposed that Ronnie try running the mile.
Thus began a day that was one happy blur, with a breakfast at Hotel Glentworth in Limerick, an official reception by the mayor of Limerick at the Town Hall, and then the triumphal motorcade from Limerick to Dublin, with scheduled stops for official welcoming ceremonies and quite a few unscheduled stops like the poignantly vivid one pictured above.
This was 63 miles from Dublin. On a hillside, around a turning in the road, stood a line of boys, 10 to 12 perhaps, the tin-whistle band of De La Salle School of the Christian Brothers. One of the young Brothers was acting as conductor of the band (which had drums as well), and it was clear when Ronnie's motorcade came down the road that the best that was hoped for was maybe a slowing down of the parade and a wave of the hand from the Olympic hero. But when Ronnie took in the scene before him, he asked the driver of the Mercedes sports car in which he was riding to stop. Then he hopped out and ran toward the boys.
The boys, and the Brother too, were stunned and awestricken. Then the Brother, beside himself with excitement, cried, "Play, boys!" and, jumping up and down, he led them—solemn as little owls—in the old patriotic air, A Nation Once Again, which goes:
When boyhood's fire was in my blood,
I read of ancient freemen,
For Greece and Rome, who bravely stood,
Three hundred men and three men;
And then I prayed I yet might see,
Our fetters rent in twain,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again!
As the tin whistles and drums finished, the Brother whirled on Ronnie, now standing beside him, and, mad with excitement, implored: "Ronnie, d'you have the gold medal!"
Ronnie dived a hand under his coat and brought out the Olympic medal, and the boys, unfreezing at last, crowded around him for a look.
"D'you see," cried the Brother, "d'you see the gold medal, boys! All right then, let's have a cheer: Hip, hip!"
The boys cheered lustily, and Ronnie shook hands with as many as he could and then ran back to his car, the Brother racing after him, his cassock flying, shouting with all the fervor that was left in him: