Northern Ireland tickled pink as Giro fever sweeps Belfast

Fri May 9, 2014 11:32am EDT
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By Ian Graham

BELFAST (Reuters) - Northern Ireland turned pink on Friday to welcome the Giro d'Italia to the streets of a province known more for its years of sectarian conflict than as a host of major sporting events.

Some 200 of the world's top cyclists will set off in Belfast and race for three days across a province beset by three decades of violence that cost the lives of 3,600 people before a peace deal largely ended the bloodshed 16 years ago.

Long starved of such spectacle, thousands packed the streets to cheer on the riders, swapping the traditional orange and green of Northern Ireland's Catholic and Protestant communities for a route awash with pink - the signature color of the Giro, road cycling's second-most prestigious race after the Tour de France.

"I never, ever, thought I would see something like this pass within feet of my house," local Billy Ewart said before of the opening team time trial that takes in the Newtownards Road in east Belfast where annual marches have turned into full-blown riots in recent years.

"There is a real buzz in the city today - long may it continue."

Belfast Mayor Mairtin O'Muilleoir set the trend by dying his hair pink to welcome the riders on Thursday and took to twitter to post a "selfie" with Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, who were wearing pink ties for the occasion.

Hardly a building along the route, which runs from the shipyard slipway where the Titanic was launched, to the grounds of the Stormont Parliament Building and Belfast City Hall, had been left out as the city went pink.

Even the head of the Orange Order - the Protestant organization whose summer parades often lead to tensions and violence - got in on the act, decking out its headquarters in the colors of the Giro.   Continued...

The Astana cycling team pass a loyalist paramilitary mural painted on a wall in east Belfast as they make their way around the route of the Giro d'Italia team time trial May 9, 2014. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton