Ciara Mageean’s former PE teacher says she is “so proud” after watching the athlete clinch her first major title in Rome.

The 32-year-old won gold in the 1500m for Ireland in the European Championships on Sunday.

Born and raised in Portaferry, Ciara attended Assumption Grammar School in Ballynahinch, where her former PE teacher, Helen McCambridge, recalled entering the running star in her first ever cross-country event.

Yesterday, she admitted she was nervous watching the race but said it was “lovely to see” her former pupil triumph.

“I was so proud of her; everyone at the school was. It was lovely to watch. There were plenty of high emotions,” said Ms McCambridge, who still works at the Ballynahinch school.

“I was worried for her when I saw the two British girls in front of her — I thought there was maybe going to be an elbow nudge,” she continued, referring to the moment Ciara managed to find a gap between Georgia Bell and Jemma Reekie to move into the lead on the final stretch.

“But she made it and it was lovely to see.

“All the teachers were texting each other when she won the gold. We were so happy for her.”

Helen McCambridge

Ciara previously won bronze and silver medals at the European Championships but last year just missed out on the podium at the World Championships in Budapest, where she placed fourth in the 1500m final.

Ms McCambridge recalled introducing her former pupil to running, despite her initial interest in camogie.

“I remember she was in year 10 and I entered her into the cross-country in Delamont,” she said.

“We weren’t really an athletics school — we were more about camogie and netball — but I knew she enjoyed it and was keen.

“She arrived and the other runners were in full, proper gear, with spikes and everything, while Ciara was essentially in her PE kit with football boots.

“She was just a normal girl who loved her sport, and she had a real natural ability.”

Ms McCambridge said she quickly spotted Ciara’s aptitude, as did the commentators at the event in Co Down.

“They could see her talent. Two girls were ahead of her, [but the commentators] noted that she was doing well. They even took the time to find out who she was,” she recalled.

“After that, she entered a competition in Mallusk, in the Ulster Finals… it’s not an easy sport, it’s a hard one, but we knew Ciara would do well in it.”

Ms McCambridge added that Assumption Grammar is immensely proud to count Ciara as one of its famous alumni and that the school, where the athlete continues to inspire pupils, has a board decorated with headlines concerning her success.

Ciara Mageean stands for Amhrán na bhFiann as the European champion

Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster, Ciara’s mother, Catherine, said she was “over the moon” with the win.

“We usually go to the European events — we are all heading to Paris [for the Olympic Games] for a longer time — but we opted out of this one. A part of me regrets that now,” she said.

“We were nervous at home, pacing up and down the room. My husband was doing gymnastics, jumping up and down. Then he runs outside, shouting ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ down the street.”

Ciara’s victory comes as part of a double celebration for Ireland, after Chris O’Donnell, Rhasidat Adeleke, Thomas Barr and Sharlene Mawdsley won the 4x400m mixed relay, taking home the country’s first gold medal at the European event since 1998.