A businessman from Co Down has become the first person from Northern Ireland to be awarded Poland’s highest civilian honour.
Jerome Mullen, the eastern European country’s Honorary Consul in the Province, was presented with the prestigious Gold Cross of Merit at a ceremony in Belfast Castle on Saturday night.
Since 1923, versions of the coveted medal have been awarded to a select list of Polish artists, writers, Olympians and war heroes – and non-Polish nationals who have served Poland “beyond the call of duty in their work for the country and society as a whole”.
Past recipients include Jadwiga Falkowska, a founder of Girl Scouting in Poland who joined the 1944 uprising against the Nazis and was killed by SS troops in Warsaw, and celebrated pianist Izabella Zielinska.
A successful entrepreneur originally from Co Cavan, Mr Mullen was appointed Honorary Consul in 2008 and since then has worked tirelessly for the Polish community in Northern Ireland.
For the past 15 years he has also been involved in organising a Christmas charity business dinner which attracts more than 700 people and raises in excess of £80,000 for children’s charities every year – with more than one million pounds raised to date.
Mr Mullen’s award was presented to him in Belfast by Polish Consul General Dariusz Adler.
The Polish government said Mr Mullen accepted the role at a time when the Polish community in Northern Ireland was growing, “and has devoted himself to Poland’s economic, cultural and social welfare in an outstanding way”.
Mr Mullen, who lives in Warrenpoint, said he felt privileged to have worked with the Polish community and has been “deeply impressed by their industry and sense of responsibility in enriching their adopted land, culturally, socially and economically.”
He said: “To move from the overall cultural security of one’s homeland into a completely different environment has its serious challenges. My ambition from the very beginning was to make sure that the Polish community availed of all their rights in every respect, and that they had the full protection of the law and fully respected that law, and to ensure a smooth integration into society here.”
Mr Mullen added: “After eight years, I can say that this has been for me a tremendous enriching journey and I can also say with full confidence that in the years to come the contribution of the Polish community to life here will fully reveal itself just as it has enriched the wider European civilization down through history.”
• Past recipients of the Gold Cross of Merit include: novelist Komel Filipowicz; film director Jerzy Hoffman; composer Karol Szymanowski; Olympic canoeist Aneta Pastuszka; astronaut Miroslaw Hermaszewski and actor Daniel Olbrychski.