Police officers, a top chemist and a veteran reporter are among 85 Northern Ireland-based names to appear on the 2015 New Years’ Honours List – but one stands out above all.
Olympic gold pentathlete Dame Mary Peters has been named a Companion of Honour; an award so rare that it is well over half-a-century since anyone from Northern Ireland has received one.
The Companion of Honour was created by King George V, and there are only allowed to be 65 living holders of the title at any given time.
A full list of recipients is available here.
Dame Mary (who already has an MBE and a CBE, among many other honours) was in Australia yesterday, but via a statement she declared: “It was totally unexpected.
“Everything I have done in my interesting life has been a gift so there was no need for recognition. I have been so privileged.”
When she was made Lord Lieutenant of Belfast for five years in 2009, she had believed at the time that it was “the ultimate honour”.
When it comes to this latest accolade, she said she is “delighted” to accept.
Companions of Honour have in the past included Professor Stephen Hawking and Sebastian Coe, and the last Northern Ireland-based recipient of the award was John Gregg, Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, who received his in 1957. He died four years later.
Before him it was John Andrews in 1943 (ex-Prime Minister of Northern Ireland) and Hugh Pollock in 1936 (a UUP politician).
Paddy Barnes was also honoured: see here.
Meanwhile, it was revealed that Matt Baggott will be receiving a knighthood.
In a statement, the newly-ennobled Sir Matt said: “This award is an acknowledgement of the courage, commitment and achievements of my policing colleagues without whose immense efforts I would not have been able to fulfil my responsibilities. I have been truly fortunate to work with such great people.”
He added: “It has been, in particular, a God-given privilege to serve in Northern Ireland and the continuing journey to peace will remain in my thoughts and prayers.”
Professor Kenneth Seddon, from Queen’s University Belfast, is to be granted an OBE.
His work has included developing a way to remove mercury from gas fields under the sea – something which reduces the risk of explosions when it is being extracted.
The 64-year-old, originally from Liverpool, was listed as the best chemist in the UK by the Times Higher Education Supplement in 2011.
Reacting to news of the OBE, he said he was “delighted, honoured and flattered”.
The youngest on the honours list is Louise Greer, aged 17 and from Coleraine, while the oldest is Ferris Dennison, 89 and from Bangor.
Former banker Mr Dennison was honorary treasurer with the NI Kidney Research Fund for about 30 years.
“Next year I’ll be 90,” he said. “And it’s my 60th wedding anniversary in October, so it’s a good year.”
Deric Henderson, recently-retired Ireland editor of the Press Association, has been granted an MBE for services to journalism, having worked in the field for 45 years.
The 63-year-old south Belfast man said: “I’m pleased for my family as well.
“In the bad old days of the Troubles you used to leave home in the morning and not know when you were going to come back – sometimes you were away for weeks.
“It wasn’t easy for them when I was away so often.”
He said he spent decades interviewing New Year honours recipients, adding: “This is a bit of a turnaround for me.”
About 60 per cent of Northern Ireland’s recipients were male, and about 40 female.
There are 1,164 names on the whole UK-wide honours list, of which Northern Ireland makes up a share of just over seven per cent.
Since the Province has less than three per cent of the UK’s population, it is punching well above its weight in terms of honours recipients.
Of the 85 awards in the Province, the bulk (43) were for services to the community or voluntary organisations.
Of the rest, 13 were for education, nine for sport, six for the economy, five for the civil service, two for health and one each for politics, science and technology, and arts and media. There were also three Queen’s Policing Medals and one Fire Service Medal.