Call to honour Ulster’s first Paralympic hero

Dianne Barr helps launch Belfast Marathon Day in 1990 with Belfast Lord Mayor Reg Empey. INLT 02-905-CON
Dianne Barr helps launch Belfast Marathon Day in 1990 with Belfast Lord Mayor Reg Empey. INLT 02-905-CON

A FORMER rugby international has backed calls for Northern Ireland’s first Paralympian swimming medallist to be recognised in Ulster.

Trevor Ringland, who played for the British and Irish Lions, called for Dianne Barr – who won five medals in her first Paralympics as a 16-year-old in 1988 – to be formally recognised.

The Larne woman began swimming at the age of four despite having a congenital abnormality of the lower leg. At the age of 11 she and her family made the difficult decision to amputate the lower leg to improve her mobility with a prosthetic limb.

She won two gold, one silver and two bronze medals at the Seoul Paralympics.

Mr Ringland, who is now the Conservative Party’s Northern Ireland spokesman for sport, said that the stories of Paralympians was often as inspirational as their athletic performances.

The solicitor, who has known Ms Barr’s family for many years, said: “I recall joining Dianne for the last 10 lengths of her 500-length swim when she was raising money to fund the trip to Seoul in 1988.

“I was fully fit and thought I was a good swimmer but I had to give up after four lengths. There has been a lot of debate recently around awards for Olympians — if those awards are to be handed out then she is certainly worthy of recognition.”

The then UK Sports Minister, Colin, now Lord, Moynihan, wrote to Ms Barr in 1999 to congratulate her on the medals.

Lord Moynihan, who would go on to be chairman of the British Olympic Association and one of the key figures at the London Olympics, said that Ms Barr’s five medals had been “a magnificent achievement.”

In the letter he said with feeling: “One of my most deeply held ambitions is to see the sporting achievements of people such as yourself recognised as they should be – as fine sporting achievements.”

Ms Barr won a further bronze medal at the 1992 Paralympics before retiring early to attend university.

A family friend of Ms Barr, Jim Scott, has also written to Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin highlighting her absence from the “impressive” Ulster Museum exhibition on Ulster athletes.

He said that the former Larne Grammar schoolgirl – who is now a school teacher – “is one athlete who should not have been ignored” and added that her commitment to overcome adversity “was total”.

The Paralympics begin on Thursday and yesterday the Prime Minister hailed members of ParalympicsGB as “super-amazing” as he visited them in the athletes’ village. Wearing a ParalympicsGB top David Cameron toured the facilities of the village.

He told the five equestrians and their support staff that their actions over the coming days would inspire countless others.

“That’s where I think the Paralympics are more important than the Olympics,” he added. “Olympians are amazing and do incredible things – but you are super-amazing, because you’ve had to overcome hardships and difficulties and doubts.”

Meanwhile, the Duke of Edinburgh will not attend the opening ceremony of the Paralympics as he continues to recover from a bladder infection, Buckingham Palace has said.

Prince Philip was due to attend with the Queen on Wednesday when she officially opens the ceremony but will instead remain at the family’s private Balmoral estate in Scotland.