Belfast Telegraph

Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards are back...and ten times better!

Northern Ireland's most important awards show returns with more categories to nominate your worthy winners.

By Sarah Henderson

We are looking to honour Northern Ireland’s unsung heroes for the biggest date in the local awards calendar - the Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards.

Sunday Life has again teamed up with Specsavers for the annual televised awards ceremony which pays tribute to all those who make Northern Ireland a better place.

Launching today, we want your nominations for who you think is worthy of a Spirit of Northern Ireland Award in 2016, by selflessly serving others and being an inspiration to us all.

This year we have launched a new awards format with a total of 10 categories which are listed here today, including new awards for Charity Champion, 999 Hero, Spirit of Health, Spirit of Education, Spirit of Youth and Spirit of Sport.

The finalists will be honoured at a gala ceremony on Friday May 27 at the luxurious five-star Culloden Estate & Spa resort in Holywood, which will again be broadcast on UTV. The unique Northern Ireland-wide search will give recognition to those whose good deeds have previously gone mostly unnoticed.

Like previous years the audience will be filled with many local celebrities supporting the event and eager to hear the incredible stories behind the finalists.

Well known personalities who have supported the awards in recent years include X Factor judge Louis Walsh, Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and Nathan Connolly, world boxing champ Carl Frampton, The Fall actresses Bronagh Waugh and Niamh McGrady, Game of Thrones star Kristian Nairn as well as Northern Ireland football manager Michael O’Neill and some of his star players.

Other sporting faces who have attended include Ulster and Ireland rugby stars Rory Best and Craig Gilroy and Olympic boxer Paddy Barnes as well as soap actors from Emmerdale and Coronation Street.

After the event last year singer Gary Lightbody said: “It was a really staggering night, hearing all the stories of those who have struggled and strived through so much adversity but who are happier and more in touch with their humanity than most of us who are blessed with all the gifts we take for granted.”

Louis Walsh, who sat on the judging panel for the awards, added: “It’s a brilliant night because it’s about normal people with real stories, about them overcoming so many difficulties but who are happy with their lives.”

The top honour on the night, the overall Spirit of Northern Ireland award, went to Lurgan lad Jay Beatty last year. The Celtic-mad football fanatic, 11, stole the hearts of all footie fans when he won the Scottish goal of the month award for his half-time effort during a clash between his beloved Hoops and Hamilton in February.

His infectious and inspiring spirit earned him the admiration of our judging panel who were amazed at how the modest young boy has become a champion for those living with Down’s Syndrome.

The Young Person of the year award was picked up by a stunned Danielle McGriskin, 18, for her phenomenal fundraising efforts for the Brain Tumour Charity.

Our Unsung Hero in 2015 was inspirational animal sanctuary founder Patricia Nevines, 81, while six-year-old Coleraine boy Oliver Dickey took home the Specsavers Overcoming Adversity award for his fight to overcome debilitating spastic diplegia, which left him unable to walk.

This year’s event will again be a memorable night as we pay tribute to ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things to help others - people whose uplifting stories of selfless acts will touch the hearts of all who hear them.

Whether for demonstrating a spirit of compassion, neighbourliness, charity, courage or devotion, or going beyond the call of duty in the fields of education, the emergency services, the caring sector, health or sport all nominations are welcome. All those who submit nominations will automatically be entered into a prize draw to win a £150 eyecare voucher and a VIP experience at the awards, including an overnight stay at the Culloden, courtesy of Specsavers.

Specsavers Northern Ireland Chairman Brian O’Kane said: “We very proud to once again be sponsors of the wonderful Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards. We have been involved with this fantastic event since 2011 and are already looking forward to celebrating Northern Ireland’s unsung heroes.

“The awards encapsulate all that is good about this fantastic part of the world, allows us to recognise truly exceptional individuals and give them an evening they will always remember.”

Sunday Life editor Martin Breen added: “As every year passes these awards get bigger and better as we honour the real heroes of Northern Ireland.

“We have added more categories this year due to public demand so now we want people to nominate those who have made a difference to their lives or a difference to the lives of their local community.”

Spirit of NI Award categories

Unsung Hero

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.

Overcoming Adversity

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.

999 Hero

A member of the emergency services who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in their job.

Charity Champion

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 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:

>> Click here to download the entry form <<

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