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Knighthood for jockey Tony McCoy as our heroes from all walks of life receive recognition

By Cate McCurry

Published 31/12/2015

Former jockey Tony McCoy with his wife Chanelle
Former jockey Tony McCoy with his wife Chanelle
Actor James Nesbitt

Racing legend Tony McCoy heads a list of almost 80 people from Northern Ireland recognised in the New Year's Honours.

The 20-time champion jockey has been awarded a knighthood by Her Majesty.

McCoy landed the top accolade just weeks after receiving the lifetime achievement award at the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year ceremony in Belfast.

McCoy said: "It is an unbelievable privilege and honour to receive a knighthood in the New Year Honours List. I certainly wasn't expecting it.

"I consider myself lucky to have had a job I loved, every single day.

"A knighthood really tops off what's been a crazy and memorable year."

Also named in the Queen's Honours list are actor James Nesbitt, who is awarded an OBE, and boxer Carl Frampton, who has received an MBE.

A total of 79 recipients from Northern Ireland are recognised for a wide range of achievements in areas of public life. An analysis of the UK list also shows that Northern Ireland has the greatest number of honours per person - roughly 39 for every million of the population.

They come from all walks of life and have worked in areas including sport, business, education, the voluntary and community sector, local government, arts and media and the health sector.

The oldest recipient is 89-year-old Mary Jane McFarland from Co Fermanagh, who was given a British Empire Medal for her work with the voluntary service at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, while 28-year-old Frampton is the youngest.

McCoy is widely regarded as the greatest jump jockey of all time, winning almost every major race including the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, King George VI Chase and ultimately the Grand National in 2010 on Don't Push It.

The Moneyglass man became the first jockey to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

In February of this year, along with his wife Chanelle, he became ambassador for the children's heart charity Tiny Tickers which seeks to improve early detection and treatment of congenital heart disease.

AP's mum, Claire McCoy, said the family were delighted but that it came as a "complete surprise" to her.

"It was a bit unreal to me. Our family couldn't believe that I was surprised but I never expected it nor did it occur to me that he would get it," she explained.

"It's great for him, it's absolutely brilliant and it's great for someone from a small area.

"The Royals are big into their racing so I suppose it was going to happen. He rang me the day he found out and we have been under wraps not to say anything. His reaction wasn't as good as Chanelle's, but he is delighted.

"I asked him what that made us and he laughed. It's great for him, for racing and for Northern Ireland."

Some 59% of recipients are male and around 92% have been involved in some form of voluntary work.

James Nesbitt is a patron of the Wave Trauma Centre, which supports people bereaved, injured or traumatised during the years of violence.

The Coleraine actor said receiving an OBE will "give credence" to the cause of those left searching for loved ones following the Troubles.

The Missing star was awarded the honour for services to Northern Ireland and to acting.

He said: "I've been very blessed with my work and very blessed to come from Northern Ireland, and for those two things to be on the citation was really rather gratifying."

The 50-year-old also appeared in several films about the Troubles, including Bloody Sunday and Five Minutes of Heaven.

"You cannot help the feeling the responsibility is a wee bit heavier," he said. "It's where I come from and it's affected so many lives and that has been a great privilege."

Anna McShane, a daughter of Charlie Armstrong who was abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1981, said she was delighted the star had been recognised.

"He absolutely deserves it as the support he has given the families has been terrific," she said. "The first time I met him was in 2004 and he was genuine in his feelings.

"On my mother's 80th birthday he sent her a message and when my father's remains were found in 2010, he sent a message sending his good wishes. He was always there in the background and his support means a lot to all the families."

Sandra Peake, CEO of Wave, said Nesbitt's honour was "thoroughly deserved". "Since Jimmy became a patron of Wave in 2000 he has been a constant source of support for our work with victims and survivors," she said.

Belfast boxer Frampton said it will be a proud moment for his family.

"I am very honoured and proud to have received the award. To think that I will be going to the palace to receive an MBE is very humbling - I'm just delighted," he said.

"I'm very proud from where I come from and I know for all my family this is a very, very proud moment.

"People like my old amateur coach Billy McKee are far more deserving than me so to be honoured like this in the middle of my career, rather than at the end or after even a few more big wins is really special.

"It was strange how I got to know because the day before we had been sitting at lunch and I was talking with my coach Shane and his brother Blain and I had joked that it would be nice to receive such an award some day and then the next day the letter came that I was going to be honoured. It's a great way to start 2016 and hopefully it will another good year for me in the ring."

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