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All the best: Humble heroes given the recognition they deserve at Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards

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Pamela Ballantine with our 12 winners

Pamela Ballantine with our 12 winners

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Pamela Ballantine with our 12 winners

Exceptional people from all walks of life were celebrated on Thursday at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, in association with Ulster Bank.

Unsung heroes from every section of the community were honoured at a special event at the Culloden Estate and Spa in Cultra, hosted by TV personality Pamela Ballantine.

After a tough 18 months for everyone, many inspirational stories of self-sacrifice and heroism emerged, making the job of selecting our finalists and winners a very challenging one.

The task fell to our judging panel, which included Belfast actor Ian McElhinney, known for his performances in Derry Girls and Game of Thrones, UTV’s Pamela, Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life Deputy Editor-In-Chief Martin Breen and Mairead Duffy, from our headline sponsors Ulster Bank.

Awards were presented in 11 categories, alongside two special commendations, following a champagne reception at the hotel.

A highlight of the annual awards calendar, the Spirit of NI recognises people who go above and beyond for others — people such as the winner of our Special Recognition award Peter Heathwood, who campaigned for 13 years to secure recognition and a pension for victims of the Troubles.

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Peter Heathwood with Alan McBride and Tim McGarry

Peter Heathwood with Alan McBride and Tim McGarry

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Peter Heathwood with Alan McBride and Tim McGarry

The north Belfast father-of-three, who was left paralysed after a loyalist shooting in 1979, when he was 26, has overcome great adversity to work for others.

He was accompanied to the event by his close friends Alan McBride, of the Wave Trauma Centre, and comedian Tim McGarry, of Give My Head Peace fame.

Peter dedicated his award to all the victims in the Wave Injured Group who helped with the campaign.

He said: “I couldn’t praise that group of people enough, how courageous they are and how strong mentally.

“They are an amazing group of people who didn’t let what happened to them destroy them — and they have some horrific stories to tell.

“I see it as an honour for the group, not just me.”

PSNI Chief Inspector for Fermanagh and Omagh Graham Dodds took home our 999 Hero award after saving the life of a nine-year-old boy by donating a kidney in May.

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Graham Dodds and his wife Nicola

Graham Dodds and his wife Nicola

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Graham Dodds and his wife Nicola

Time was running out for Joshua Dolan, who had a kidney function of just 17%, before Graham stepped up to the mark.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne was one of the first people to congratulate his selfless colleague.

He tweeted: “A proud moment to reflect such a selfless and compassionate act [by] Graham.”

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Joshua Dolan

Joshua Dolan

Joshua Dolan

Our Spirit of Health award went to dedicated children’s palliative care nurse Deirdre Armstrong, from Downpatrick, who retired earlier this year after 40 years of service.

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Deirdre Armstrong with Ian Henry of Henry Brothers

Deirdre Armstrong with Ian Henry of Henry Brothers

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Deirdre Armstrong with Ian Henry of Henry Brothers

The medic has spent the past 22 years supporting the families of children with terminal cancer, travelling all over Northern Ireland at all hours of the day and night.

Phillip and Alison Armstrong, from Cookstown, who won our Caring Spirit Award, rescued an old friend who had fallen on hard times.

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Alison Armstrong with Niamh Keeley of Power NI

Alison Armstrong with Niamh Keeley of Power NI

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Alison Armstrong with Niamh Keeley of Power NI

They gave him a new start in life only for tragedy to strike a few months later when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Overwhelmed to be chosen for the award, Phillip said: “I feel absolutely honoured for anyone to even think about nominating us.

“We didn’t do it for the recognition. No one would even have known about it if Leon had not died. It’s a real honour.”

Cathy Burns, a very special primary school classroom assistant, picked up our Spirit of Education award.

Cathy does more than devoting herself to the children and staff at St Dympna’s Primary School in Dromore — she’s also a tireless volunteer who goes out of her way to help people less fortunate than her.

She is described by people who know her as “a true gift to have in your life”.

Our Climate Hero award went to an eco-warrior who took on the might of the British government in a campaign which could have a huge impact on slowing down global warming. Adam McGibbon (33), from Belfast, compelled Boris Johnson to end a decades-old policy of funding fossil fuels projects overseas to the tune of billions of pounds.

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Adam McGibbon

Adam McGibbon

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Adam McGibbon

Bangor man Joe Traynor, another remarkable individual, was recognised with our Overcoming Adversity award but was unable to attend the event.

When his mum died after a long battle with alcoholism in 2018, the 22-year-old gave up his dream of going to university so he could earn money to support himself and his younger brother Jack.

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Joe Traynor

Joe Traynor

Joe Traynor

Now carving out a career for himself in finance, his brother is midway through his university degree thanks to Joe’s selflessness.

Belfast man Jahswill Emmanuel picked up our Charity Champion award.

The brave 34-year-old was seriously injured in a vicious racist attack in 2012 that left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Jahswill Emmanuel pictured with charity trustee Latoya Toffa

Jahswill Emmanuel pictured with charity trustee Latoya Toffa

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Jahswill Emmanuel pictured with charity trustee Latoya Toffa

In 2016, he established Multi-Ethnic Sports and Culture Northern Ireland, a charity which has helped hundreds of people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

Our Unsung Hero award was presented to a lady who devotes her life to helping depressed people.

Inspirational Carlee Letson has saved thousands of lives through a suicide prevention charity she set up in Larne, her hometown.

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Carlee Letson with nominators Peter McAllister and Chloe Dunlop

Carlee Letson with nominators Peter McAllister and Chloe Dunlop

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Carlee Letson with nominators Peter McAllister and Chloe Dunlop

There was delight for the Co Down village of Drumaness when local hero Darren McQuoid picked up our Spirit of Sport award.

Darren transformed life for families by establishing a thriving youth football club to which he devotes hours of his time.

Last but certainly not least, our Spirit of Youth award was presented to a delighted 13-year-old Aine Hamill, from Portstewart, in recognition of how she supported her mum through her battle with cancer. Aine also walked 5km every day for 30 days to raise more than £12,000 for cancer research.

A special commendation went to Fermanagh woman Ina Latimer (83), who was nominated in our Charity Champion category for her lifelong devotion to countless good causes.

Best friends Anne Mullan and Sharon Driscoll, from Cookstown, who set up the Halo Helping Hands charity during the pandemic, were also commended in the Unsung Hero category.

Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life Deputy Editor-In-Chief Martin Breen said: “This prestigious event is now in its 12th year, and year after year I am amazed by the selfless acts people right across Northern Ireland are doing.

“It was truly humbling to meet our incredible award winners.

“I am always indebted to our judges and am very grateful to Ulster Bank for their continued support as headline sponsor and also our category sponsors — the Boulevard, Hinch Distillery, Concentrix, Better; Hastings Hotels, Coca Cola, Henry Brothers; Harbinson Mulholland and Power NI. We plan to return in 2022 with a bigger event than ever and will be calling for nominations again early in the new year.”


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