Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards: Jay's season highlight
Taking home the Spirit of NI Award was the icing on the cake for last year's football mad winner.
He is only 12-years-old and has made such a huge impact that he needs no introduction as everyone will have heard of little Jay Beatty.
The football-mad Lurgan schoolboy was the toast of the province last summer when he won the overall award at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers 2015.
Nominations for this year’s awards are now open and you can enter your unsung hero using the form at the bottom of this page or by emailing us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jay has become a hero for people with Down’s syndrome, helping change perceptions and winning the hearts of some of the world’s biggest football stars and their fans along the way.
Picking up last year’s Spirit of Northern Ireland Award in association with Specsavers was the highlight of a memorable year for Jay and his family.
The Celtic fan enjoyed an eventful year which included being flown to Greece to be presented with the Friendship Award at the Sports Personality of the Year Awards, picked up the Humanitarian Award at the same event in Barcelona and attended the Hero of Scotland awards where he beat world darts champion Gary Hamilton to be crowned overall Sports Hero.
He also became the only non professional footballer in the world to win the Scottish Goal of the Month award.
However for proud parents Martin and Aine it was winning the overall Spirit of Northern Ireland Award which brought the most joy as dad Martin explains: “Out of everything Jay has won to have this recognition in his own country topped off what was an unbelievable 13 months in our lives.
“We never expected it and it was such a pleasant surprise. It is a fantastic night and for anyone who is lucky enough to be invited this year it will be something you will never forget.
“When we heard the other stories of the people nominated we thought ‘why are we even here’ and then to find out Jay had won just blew our minds. It changes your life – the fact that people sat down and thought about Jay in that way is hard to get your head around. It is amazing.”
Martin, 45, a building project manager and his systems analyst wife Aine, 44, set up a Down’s syndrome support group called Downs and Proud shortly after Jay was born.
The couple who also have a daughter Olivia, 17 had no idea what to expect for their son when he was born with Down’s syndrome and Martin says every day they continue to marvel at what Jay has achieved.
“We didn’t think 12 years ago that Jay would have so many amazing opportunities.
“When you are out with Jay it is like he is some kind of pop star, it is really mind blowing.
“Everyone knows he loves Celtic but even if we are on the boat going to a match, rival fans will come up asking for selfies, high-fiving him and slagging him off about his team and he loves the banter. Everyone is so nice, it is very humbling.”
Jay captured hearts across the world when Celtic manager Neil Lennon spotted him in the crowd at
Celtic Park in 2014 and presented him with his SPL winner’s medal.
Striker Georgios Samaras then took a jubilant Jay in his arms and did a lap of honour on the pitch. A touching online video of the special moment – now one of many starring Jay – has been watched by millions worldwide.
Jay became a big fan of Samaras calling the Greek star “Sammy”. When his dad captured him on video reacting to his idol scoring a winning goal for Greece against Ivory Coast in the World Cup and posted it on Facebook - it also went viral making Jay a worldwide star.
Jay’s celebrity continued to rise as he was invited to world sport awards events where he was honoured among the major stars.
There were more surprises in store when he got tickets from Santa for a Celtic away game last January.
At the match, Jay was invited onto the pitch at half time to take a penalty and the crowd erupted when he scored.
It was filmed and entered into the Goal of the Month which led to a landslide vote of 97 per cent.
Then shortly after winning the overall Spirit of Northern Ireland award last summer, the family was stunned when Jay was invited to become the first child ever to be appointed an ambassador for his beloved Celtic Football team.
It has given him even more opportunities to promote disabilities and the fact that everyone is equal.
In his role as ambassador Jay gets to meet and greet the referees and the opposing team as they arrive for matches, rub shoulders with his heroes in the Celtic team as well as fans and sponsors.
Said Martin: “It is an honour to be doing it and I can’t believe how lucky Jay is to be given the chance. He loves it although he doesn’t really understand what it means, he will just ask ‘Am I working?’ when we are going to a match. It doesn’t dawn on him the importance of the role, he just enjoys it.”
Jay was treated like a celebrity when he was invited to mingle with the stars at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards when they were hosted in Belfast last year.
It was another humbling experience for his family who constantly marvel at the impact jay has made on so many people. Martin says: “Everyone you can think of was there and they all took time to chat and meet Jay.
“They all knew him which was amazing. Niall from One Direction spotted him and said ‘There’s Jay’ and came over to talk to him and I just thought ‘how does he know our Jay’.
“Everyone – Jimmy Nesbitt, Rory McIlroy, Martin McGuinness and Mike Nesbitt and many more busy and well known faces – they all took time to say hello and talk to Jay and they couldn’t have been any kinder.”
Despite all the joy that Jay has brought, shockingly the child last year became the victim of vile internet trolls and even had a death threat issued against him.
A number of people in Scotland have since been convicted of hate crimes in relation to the online abuse.
However while Jay was oblivious to the abuse being viciously levelled against him, his parents were naturally very upset.
He says: “I think they saw Jay as an easy target and when you throw his disability into the mix there were some choice words used.
“But they are few and far between compared to the hundreds of emails we get every week from people who have nice things to say and who see Jay as an inspiration and say he has touched their lives.
“It is incredible just how many people get in touch and I could easily spend every night at my computer reading and replying to them.
“It was very distressing but you have to put it behind you and think of all the nice things being said.”
Spirit of NI Award categories
Someone whose great deed or deeds have previously gone unnoticed, but who will have made a major contribution to your life or to your community.
Someone who has overcome huge personal challenges, whether it is dealing with illness or disability or overcoming problems.
Spirit of Youth
Someone under the age of 18 who should be recognised for their special achievements.
A member of the emergency services who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in their job.
Someone who has worked tirelessly for a charity or as a fundraiser for many years.
Spirit of Health
A medical professional who has gone the extra mile to improve the health and wellbeing of their patients.
Spirit of Education
This award recognises a truly inspirational teacher who has helped children and young people to fulfil their potential.
Caring Spirit Award
A person, young or old, who has dedicated their time to caring for a friend or family member.
Spirit of Sport
Someone who has made an exceptional contribution to local sport over a number of years.
Overall Spirit of Northern Ireland Award
Someone who the judges feel best represents the Spirit of Northern Ireland by selflessly serving others and being an inspiration to us all.
- There are 10 awards in total. You can nominate an unsung hero via the form on this page, which will be available in Specsavers stores, or email your nomination to email@example.com. Closing date for nominations is Friday April 22.
- The Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers grand final will be at held at the Culloden Estate and Spa on Friday, May 27. All the finalists will be invited to the glittering awards ceremony, which will include entertainment, celebrity guests and will be shown on UTV.
- Tickets for the gala awards ceremony cost £60, which includes dinner, table wine and the top class entertainment, can be purchased from JPR, Sylvan House, 232-240, Belmont Office Park, Belfast, BT4 2AW; by phone at 028 9076 0066 or e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org