Almost immediately, the small group of Irish students found itself in the middle of the unrest and violence that flared following the announcement that President Kibaki had been re-elected and had defeated his challenger, ODM leader Raila Odinga.
Within hours of the election result being announced, the mood in the town of Iten changed and, in no time at all, the streets were thronged with opposition supporters chanting anti-government slogans. Flames from burning barricades lit up the night sky outside the bedroom windows of the Irish athletes and the acrid smell of smoke from burning tyres filled the air. The sound of bullets ricocheting off nearby buildings ensured that, for them, there would be no sleep. Their Kenyan dream holiday was turning into a nightmare.
On a number of occasions the small group of young Irish athletes were in close proximity to incidents during which government troops fired live ammunition into crowds of protesters. On another occasion, as bullets and tear-gas were being fired, local people saw the plight of the Irish athletes and pulled them clear of the chaos before guiding them safely back to their deserted hotel through a maze of backstreets.
When the group ran out of food and water, they were befriended by a local fruit-seller who got them enough provisions to keep them going until the Irish Consul in Nairobi and our own Department of Foreign Affairs arranged to get them out of the danger zone.
Even though they had a police escort, the athletes encountered several roadblocks on the road from Iten to Eldoret. On one occasion, they were surrounded by an angry mob of over 300 protestors wielding machetes, knives and sticks. As they closed in, they feared the worst but their driver, who was from the same Kalenjin tribe as the mob, successfully pleaded their case and, after some discussion, the Irish group was allowed through. Others were not so lucky and the car behind was set upon and the occupants dragged out and beaten.
Now safe and sound at home in Ballyrobin, Colin Butler has written a vivid diary of his experience and it is carried on Page 3 of this issue.