Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Dame Mary set for freedom of city

The SDLP have put forward a motion calling for Dame Mary Peters to be given the Freedom of Belfast
The SDLP have put forward a motion calling for Dame Mary Peters to be given the Freedom of Belfast

Olympic champion Dame Mary Peters is set to be given the Freedom of Belfast.

A motion calling for recognition of her tireless work to promote sport over the past 40 years is to be brought before the city council next week.

SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy said he expected his proposal to receive cross-party support. "This is the highest honour that Belfast can bestow on any person," he said. "It is not being given because Mary just won a gold medal 40 years ago. For me it is because she has tirelessly undertaken work to promote sport among young people and has raised substantial funds to help young people compete.

"And many of those that she has helped have gone on to compete for Team GB and for Team Ireland. For Mary it is not about politics it is about sport. This is something that is long, long overdue."

Dame Mary, who is now aged 73, competed in three Olympic Games and five Commonwealth Games starting when she was 18 years old. She took gold in the pentathlon competition at the 1972 Munich games.

She was born in Halewood near Liverpool in 1939 but later moved with her family to Co Armagh. It was at Portadown College where her headmaster first spotted her talent for athletics.

In an interview given at the time of her Olympic victory, Dame Mary said: "I used to have to get two buses into Belfast city centre and then another to the track carrying my shot, which weighed four kilos and my starting blocks. The track was full of potholes. It wasn't the ideal place to come but it was the only place we had."

In recent years she set up the Mary Peters Trust to help promising young sports stars finance their dream. A statue in her honour is expected to be erected at the south Belfast athletics track to which she gave her name in 1975. The statue will go up after the completion of renovation works in preparation for the World Police and Fire Games next year.

Mr McCarthy's motion is expected to be put to Belfast City Council during a special meeting next Thursday.

It reads: "This council recognises the tremendous contribution made to the life of the city by Dame Mary Peters. Over the past 40 years she has served as an ambassador for Belfast across the world and has been tireless in her efforts to promote sport and the benefits it brings to young people. Accordingly, in recognition of this service the council agrees that Dame Mary Peters is hereby elected and admitted as a Freeman of the City of Belfast."

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