Over 20,000 people have attended the opening ceremony of Special Olympics Ireland at Thomond Park in Limerick.

Two thousand athletes will compete in 14 different events over the next four days - all hoping to qualify for the international games in Athens next year.

It is billed as the biggest sporting event in Ireland this year in which 1,900 athletes will take part in 14 different sports ranging from aquatics, equestrian, gymnastics, golf and table tennis.

The majority of sports are taking place at the sports arena at the University of Limerick, but there will be action at a number of other venues throughout the city.

Successful athletes will go on to represent Ireland in the World Games, which will be held in Athens in 2011.

The Special Olympics is a massive logistical event with 3,500 volunteers, 650 coaches and up to 5,000 family members involved in getting the games under way.

The Cranberries will perform at tonight's opening ceremony, marking their first performance in their native city for over 15 years.

The ceremony will also be attended by Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin, businessman Denis O’Brien, who is Chairman of the Special Olympics Ireland Council of Patrons, and MD Special Olympics Europe Mary Davis.

RTÉ's Des Cahill and Ian Dempsey of Today FM will jointly host the event.

Special Olympics Ireland CEO Matt English said Limerick is ready for the games, which he said will be nothing short of amazing.