Honoured: Paddy McGowan bringing pilgrims to Lourdes for 40 years
A Northern Ireland man who has taken more than 7,000 pilgrims to the Catholic shrine in Lourdes has had his efforts rewarded by the mayor of the French town.
Despite being 80, Paddy McGowan still travels to France at least three times a year - something he has done for the past four decades.
Mr McGowan, from Omagh in Co Tyrone, said he had witnessed at first-hand the transformation in many of the pilgrims.
"I took my first trip to Lourdes in 1976 and now I take a group out three times a year, sometimes four," he said.
"I have been told that French authorities have put the figure at 7,000, but I think it is probably more.
"Lourdes is a very special place, it is the most remarkable Marian shrine in the world and people who go there come away with great peace of mind, reconciliation, and numerous people have had cures which have never been documented.
"I have witnessed people that I took on pilgrimage who had been told there was nothing more medically that could be done for them, who went back to the hospital for check-ups and the consultants told them there was nothing wrong with them."
It was on his last pilgrimage that he was given his award.
"The management of the hotel where we were staying told me someone was coming to see me in the evening but I didn't put too much thought into it," he said.
"It turned out the group had gathered in the hotel with the mayor and deputy mayor of Lourdes to present me with the medallion. It is really only given to ambassadors; I am not an ambassador, but the authorities decided I was worthy of it. I couldn't believe it."
While organising pilgrimages to Lourdes for 40 years is an achievement in itself, it is not Mr McGowan's only contribution to the community. He received an MBE from the Queen for his 25 years of service to the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service
This was in addition to 41 years driving buses for Ulsterbus, serving as a councillor on Omagh District Council for 30 years, and serving as a Justice of the Peace.
He has also just served a year-long term as Sheriff of Omagh.
Mr McGowan added: "My grandson counted up everything I have done and told me I should be 125. It has been a busy life and I wouldn't have it any other way, but maybe one of these days I might retire when I get old."