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Sunday, October 31, 1999 Published at 10:20 GMT

UK: Northern Ireland

Dreams shattered in Irvine's home village

Irvine's parents watched the race in Suzuka

The champagne was on ice, but the party never really got started in Eddie Irvine's home village of Conlig, County Down where friends and family saw his dreams of taking the Formula One title shattered.

BBC NI's Julian O'Neill reports from Bangor, County Down where the fans watched Eddie Irvine's defeat
However, a civic reception may be held in honour of the Northern Ireland driver beaten into third place at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, by Mika Hakkinen who was crowned world champion.

Mayor of North Down Marion Smyth said the council would still like to pay tribue to Irvine who "behaved like a true sportsman and with great dignity".

She said he gave the borough "two weeks of excitement".

That excitement mounted as the weekend approached, with people putting out flags and blowing their horns as they drove by the headquarters of the family car sales business.

At lunchtime on Saturday, about 100 of Irvine's friends and relatives gathered at Eddie Irvine Motors in Conlig, to show their support for the village's most famous son.

There was an air of confidence among the fans who were staying up all night to back him and had planned a huge party.

Staff at the nearby Clandyboye Golf Club where Irvine once had time to play, even wrote him a good luck poem.

[ image: Eddie Irvine: Disappointed fans back in County Down]
Eddie Irvine: Disappointed fans back in County Down
Early on Sunday fans travelled a mile from Conlig to the Royal Hotel in Bangor, County Down to watch the race on big screens in the bar.

The tension mounted as the race began with their local hero moving from fifth to fourth position.

There were screams of support as Ferrari pit crews clocked 6.3seconds.

But the fans' confidence waned, as the half-way stage was reached with Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher failing to take the lead.

Great disappointment at finish

At the end there was great disappointment, but still there was a round of applause for Hakkinen.

Some Irvine fans even blamed Schumacher for their hero's defeat.

It was cold comfort to fans back at home when Ferrari took the constructors title.

In Japan, Irvine's parents Edmund and Kathleen who had been keeping their fingers crossed for him, must have felt just as deflated.

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