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Irish President Michael D Higgins, centre, and his wife Sabina, second from left, hosted a reception to honour Gary O'Donovan, third from left, and his brother Paul, second from right  ©www.president.ie

Brothers Paul and Gary O’Donovan, who won gold medals in lightweight double sculls at the 2016 European Rowing Championships in Brandenburg, Germany, and silver in the Rio Olympics, have been honoured by Irish President Michael D Higgins at an official reception.

Ireland’s first-ever rowing medallists, they went on to win silver at this year’s European Rowing Championships in Račice, Czech Republic, before going on to win silver and bronze medals later in the year at the World Rowing Cup in Poznan, Poland and gold medals at the  World Rowing Championships in Sarasota-Bradenton in the United States.

The brothers were accompanied to Higgins’ official residence in Dublin, Áras an Uachtaráin, by colleagues from Skibbereen Rowing Club in their home county of Cork.

Higgins said that the dedication to rowing by the brothers was shown by the fact that they missed the reception he held for Team Ireland after Rio 2016 as they were training with club colleagues Aoife Casey, Emily O’Hegarty, Mark O’Donovan, Shane O’Driscoll and Fintan McCarthy at the World Rowing Championships.

“Today let us honour all athletes, and those who support them, but in particular our rowers,” he said.

The O'Donovan brothers brought Ireland its Olympic first rowing medals ©Getty Images
The O’Donovan brothers brought Ireland its Olympic first rowing medals ©Getty Images

“Mark and Shane have led the way by winning gold at all three World Rowing Cup regattas, the European Championships and, only six weeks ago, in the sweltering heat, at the World Championships in Florida.

“Let us pay tribute to Denise Walsh for her inspirational performances this year, in particular at the European Championships in Czechia.  

“Denise, the grit and determination you showed in the final quarter of the race was truly formidable. 

“Over one year ago in Rio de Janeiro, the O’Donovan brothers brought Irish rowing to the attention of the world, and to see them on the podium collecting their medals was an enormously proud, uplifting moment for the whole country. 

“The authenticity of their commitment, their good humour, and the pleasure they so clearly took in their sport lifted the spirits of people not only here at home, but also around the world.  

“There was something very special, human and authentic about their account of their effort, their preparation for it, and the honest pleasure of having achieved an excellence that put them together with the best in the world.”