Special Olympics Ireland - History

50 years ago, through a vision born in her own backyard, Eunice Kennedy Shriver established Special Olympics - an organisation that would grow into a global movement and change the lives of millions. Today 3 million athletes in more than 180 countries around the world benefit from being involved with Special Olympics. 

Special Olympics Ireland was founded in 1978. Over the past 33 years the organisation has grown significantly and today has 9,361 athletes participating in 15 sports in 385 Clubs throughout the island of Ireland. They are supported by a network of more than 25,000 volunteers, making Special Olympics one of the largest voluntary organisations in Ireland.

Currently Special Olympics Ireland offers the following sports: Alpine Skiing, Aquatics, Athletics, Badminton, Basketball, Bocce, Bowling, Equestrian, Football, Golf, Gymnastics, Kayaking, Pitch & Putt, Table Tennis, Floorball as well as offering a comprehensive Motor Activities Training Programme (MATP).

In addition to providing sports training and competition, Special Olympics Ireland also incorporates the Athlete Leadership Programme (ALPs), the Family Support Programme, Healthy Athlete and Volunteer Programme.

Special Olympics Ireland Milestones

1978Special Olympics Ireland founded
European Games took place in Dublin with 2000 athletes from 17 countries participating.
Telecom Eireann become official sponsor of Special Olympics Ireland
Special Olympics Ireland Games held in Belfast 
Team Ireland, sponsored by Telecom Eireann participate at Special Olympics World Summer Games, South Bend, Indiana
Special Olympics celebrates 10 years in Ireland
1st Special Olympics Clubs formed
Mary Davis appointed Regional Director of Special Olympics Ireland.
First Irish Torch Run in association with An Garda Siochana - raised £97,000. This money provided grants for setting up first Special Olympics clubs
Coach and Volunteer Training Schools begins in St Patrick’s Teacher Training College.
Second Torch Run sponsored by Telecom Eireann raising £111,000.
Team Ireland participate at European Games Strathclyde, Scotland
Team Ireland attend Special Olympics World Summer Games, Minneapolis
First Regional Offices set up – Munster and then Connaught
Team Ireland attend the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Connecticut
3rd Torch Run historically involved both Polices forces, Garda Siochana & RUC, The torch crossing the border at Killeen Cross and being handed from one police force to the other made international news headlines
Special Olympics Ireland, Each One, Reach One Roadshow,  (athletes and their families are asked to introduce at least one new athlete to SO during this campaign).
Team Ireland participate for the first time at Special Olympics World Winter Games in Toronto.  
Team Ireland participate in Special Olympics World Summer Games, North Carolina.
2003 World Games bid, led by Mary Davis, successful
Team Ireland participate in Special Olympics World Winter Games, Anchorage, Alaska
Special Olympics World Summer Games, Dublin. eircom designated sponsor of the Final Leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run
Special Olympics Ireland Games, Belfast.
Team Ireland participate in 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games, Shanghai, China.
30th Anniversary of Special Olympics Ireland. Events held in communities throughout Ireland.
Team Ireland attend Special Olympics World Winter Games, Idaho  
25th Anniversary of eircom sponsorship.
2010 Special Olympics Ireland Games, Limerick
Team Ireland participate at 2010 Special Olympics European Summer Games taking place from September 18 -24 in Warsaw
2011126 Team Ireland athletes travel to the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. 
2013 Special Olympics celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Special Olympics World Games which took place in Ireland in 2003.
 2014The Special Olympics Ireland Games take place in Limerick over the 12th to 15th June. 1,500 athletes from all over Ireland took part in these Games which were supported by 3,000 volunteers.
 2014The Special Olympics Summer European Games take place in Antwerp, Belgium. 46 athletes represented Team Ireland at European level.
 2015The Special Olympics World Summer Games took place in Los Angeles over the 25th July to 02nd August. 88 athletes formed Team Ireland to take part in these Games.
 2017 The Special Olympics World Winter Games took place in Austria. 26 Irish athletes too part in these Games. To date this is our largest representation at a Winter Games.
 2018 The Special Olympics Ireland Summer Games took place in Dublin. 1,600 athletes from all over Ireland too part in these Games. This was the first time in 16 years that the Ireland Games returned to Dublin
 2019 91 athletes travelled to the World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi and competed in 12 sports, winning an incredible 86 medals. This was the first Games to be held in the MENA Region.