Belfast Telegraph

Local heroes honoured at Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards

The Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards are televised on UTV on Wednesday at 8pm

By Ali Gordon

Inspirational local people were recognised at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers on Friday night.

The star-studded evening, held at the luxurious Culloden Estate and Spa in Holywood and televised on UTV this Wednesday at 8pm, was enjoyed by a galaxy of stars, but it was the 10 winners who stole the limelight.

The top honour of the night was given to big-hearted bar manager Willie Gregg, who accepted the award from Sunday Life editor Mar­tin Breen, Specsavers NI chairman Brian O’Kane and top broadcaster Eamonn Holmes.

Portstewart man Willie runs Portrush’s famous Harbour Bar and each month tries to raise £2,000 for charity, having already accumulated hundreds of thousands of pounds for various causes.

Sunday Life was inundated with nominations for Willie, with some describing him as “an absolute leg­end” and “a small man with a huge heart”. Judges were in awe of Willie’s massive fundraising efforts.

He has supported many charities over the years, but mainly for his own charity, Willie’s Orphan Fund in Thailand. Moved by the devasta­tion caused by the tsunami in 2004, Willie set up the initiative. Willie’s Orphan Fund has raised more than £250,000, which has helped educate hundreds of Thai children, built an orphanage, and brought groups of youngsters over to Northern Ireland from the Asian nation.

Willie, who is also working on a water project for Uganda, and has raised money for the Portrush life­boat, Action Cancer and Guide Dogs for the Blind, received a standing ovation as he went up to collect his award on Friday night.

Upon accepting his award, he said: “I honestly think this is the first time I’ve ever been stuck for words.”

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OVERALL WINNER The Overall Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland winner 2017 is Willie Gregg from Coleraine. Presenting Willie with his award is Martin Breen, editor of the Sunday Life, Brian OÕKane, Chairman, Specsavers Northern Ireland and member of the judging panel, Eamonn Holmes. Willie was one of ten winners one the night which was held at the Culloden Resort and Spa.

This year’s Spirit of Sport award went to Terry Canning, who touched the hearts of people around the globe when he carried an American woman over the finish line of the Boston Marathon back in April.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Omagh crew com­mander, who was running in aid of the Enda Dolan Foundation — a charity set up in memory of the Killyclogher teenager who was killed by a drunk driver — noticed that his fellow runner had collapsed and decided to help her complete the 26.2 mile race.

Presented by Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill and Ulster Rugby player Craig Gilroy, the Spirit of Sport award was supported by Modest Golf. The sports manage­ment company, co-founded by Slow Hands singer Niall Horan, gave super-fit Terry two VIP tickets for the Northern Ireland Open golf tourna­ment at Galgorm Castle in August, where they will be the event’s official partner.

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SPIRIT OF SPORT Winner of the Spirit of Sport award, Terry Canning, from Omagh is presented with his trophy by sporting legends, Michael OÕNeill, Northern Ireland Football Manager and Ulster Rugby's Craig Gilroy. Also pictured are ambassadors from title sponsor Specsavers, Nicola and Alison Crimmins. Terry was one of ten winners at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers.

One Direction star Horan was also moved by the winner of our Spirit of Youth cate­gory, Cara McCar­tan, and has invited her for a meet and greet at the North­ern Ireland Open.

The selfless sev­en-year-old from Ne­wry helps her parents, who are both deaf and dumb, by interpreting for them via sign language. Last December she saved her mum’s life by calling the emergency servic­es after noticing that she was strug­gling to breathe. Cara’s mother has cystic fibro­sis and needs a lung transplant. She col­lected the award from homeware retailer Harvey Norman, who sponsored the category, and Coronation Street actress Lucy Fallon.

Andrea McAleese from Cole­raine was the winner of our Overcoming Adversity award, which she accepted from Specsavers diector Tony McGinn and Game Of Thrones actor Ian McElhinney.

The Co Londonder­ry woman has dedicated her life to helping parents who have lost a child after her three-year-old daughter Roma was killed in a tragic accident outside her home.

Following two years of utter heartbreak, Andrea decided to give something back to the community who had helped her during this difficult time. Andrea held a pamper night for over 100 mothers who had lost a child, and soon built up a network of parents who had also experienced the unim­aginable loss.

Andrea lobbied with the council for a piece of land and then raised £82,000 to build the Angel of Hope Garden, a place for grieving parents to remember their loved ones.

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OVERCOMING ADVERSITY Winner of the Overcoming Adversity award, Andrea McAleese from Coleraine, is presented with her trophy by Tony McGinn, Specsavers Northern Ireland and Game of Thrones star Ian McElhinney. Also pictured are ambassadors from title sponsor Specsavers, Nicola and Alison Crimmins. Andrea was one of ten winners at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers.

Aidan Crawford was also rewarded for his incredi­ble fundraising efforts on Friday night. The Bal­lymena man accepted the Charity Champion award from Belfast box­er Ryan Burnett and Lidl Northern Ireland, which sponsored the category, for his work as president of St Vincent De Paul NI.

Most recently, Aidan has travelled to refugee camps across Europe and organised for 40ft containers filled with medical aid from local hospitals to be sent to Syria.

“It just makes it all worthwhile to see children happy,” he said.

In a very difficult category, the PSNI’s Sergeant Mark Wright was awarded 999 Hero. The top cop was stabbed in the head while trying to save a woman and two young children from a house in Lurgan.

Brave Mark confronted the danger­ous assailant, who was armed with two knives, and was able to subdue and handcuff him, and ultimately save the three victims. The attacker was jailed for seven years.

Shocked by his win, which was presented by Miss North­ern Ireland Anna Henry and Emmerdale actress Gaynor Faye, Mark told the audi­ence that he was only doing his job and hailed his fellow police officers who he says face situations like that all the time.

Our Unsung Hero was Sean McLaughlin, who rescued two neighbours — one of whom is a wheelchair user — from their burning house, yet doesn’t consider himself to be a hero.

His actions were hailed by Fire Service commander Andy Russell, who said Sean had “undoubtedly saved the lives” of Gerard Toner and his partner Teresa from Derry.

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UNSUNG HERO Winner of the Unsung Hero award, Sean McLaughlin from Derry is presented with his award by local actress Bronagh Waugh and Ruairi OÕKane from category sponsor, The National Lottery. . Also pictured are ambassadors from title sponsor Specsavers, Nicola and Alison Crimmins. Sean was one of ten winners at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers.

After receiving his award from The Fall actress Bronagh Waugh and a representative from the National Lot­tery, which sponsored the category, modest Sean said that he was very humbled by the award.

Spirit of Education went to Gordon Cameron, who has been the Belfast Giants’ volunteer schools’ co-ordina­tor for the past 11 years. The retired teacher dedicates up to 40 hours a week delivering the ice hockey team’s healthy eating and lifestyle programmes to nearly 90 schools across Northern Ireland. He was given the award by Emmerdale’s Michelle Hardwick and Liam Fox.

Fellow Emmerdale soap star Domi­nic Brunt presented our Caring Spirit award to foster mum Mary McCauley, alongside a representative from Lidl, which also sponsored that category.

The Strabane woman lost twins at birth 22 years ago and has since fostered and adopted many children, offering them a loving home with her husband Martin.

Children’s community nurse Rosie Mulholland was given the Spirit of Health award by The Fall’s Niamh McGrady and a representative from sponsor Linwoods.

Kind-natured Rosie cares not only for her patients, but also her six chil­dren, two of whom have dealt with serious illnesses; her mother, who has dementia,  and a child with complex needs who she fosters.

Full list of winners:

Winner of the Overall Spirit of Northern Ireland Award 2017: Willie Gregg of Portrush's Harbour Bar

Unsung Hero Award: Sean McLaughlin

Caring Spirit Award: Mary McCauley

Charity Champion Award: Aidan Crawford

999 Hero Award: Mark Wright

Overcoming Adversity Award: Andrea McAleese

Spirit of Sport Award: Terry Canning

Spirit of Health Award: Rosie Mulholland

Spirit of Education Award: Gordon Cameron

Spirit of Youth Award: Cara McCartan

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