The Queen has bestowed a rare Companion of Honour award on Olympian Dame Mary Peters, who greeted the monarch in Belfast in June, during her most recent visit to Northern Ireland.
More than 80 people in Northern Ireland have received awards in the Queen’s New Year Honours list for 2015.
The highest honour was given to Dame Mary Peters, Northern Ireland’s only Olympic gold medallist.
She has been made a Companion of Honour (CH) for services to sport and to the community.
Knighthoods have been awarded to the former PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott and to Ulster University’s Vice Chancellor, Prof Richard Barnett.
‘United through sport’
The awards have been given in recognition of a wide range of achievements in many areas of public life, including sport, education, business, local government, the justice system, community services and charity fundraising.
Well-known sporting figures featured prominently in the list, with Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce becoming an Officer of the British Empire (OBE), and Belfast boxer Paddy Barnes receiving a Member of the British Empire (MBE) award.
Belfast boxer Paddy Barnes, who won gold for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games and bronze for Ireland at the Olympics, has accepted an MBE.
The 27-year-old boxer, who won two Olympic bronze medals for Ireland, described himself as a “proud Irish sportsman” after accepting the royal honour.
“I am pleased to have been recognised in the Queen’s honours list for 2015 for my contribution to the sport of boxing and for my contribution to work in this community,” he said.
The light flyweight has also represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games, winning gold medals in India in 2010 and Scotland in 2014.
“If my achievements in boxing can inspire others and people can be united through sport, then my efforts will have been worthwhile,” the boxer added.
Mr Boyce described his OBE for services to football in Northern Ireland as a “tremendous honour”.
“I would like to dedicate this honour to the people who kept football in Northern Ireland going through the many, many difficult years – be they players, officials, coaches or spectators,” he said.
Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce said it was a “tremendous honour” to receive his OBE for services to football in Northern Ireland
Dame Mary Peters’ award is a rare honour conferred for “recognised services of national importance”.
The Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) was established in 1917 and consists of the Queen and only 65 other members.
Previous CH recipients have included Prof Stephen Hawking and Sir David Attenborough.
‘God given privilege’
Sir Matt Baggott, who led the PSNI from August 2009 to June 2014, dedicated his knighthood to his fellow officers.
“This award is an acknowledgement of the courage, commitment and achievements of my policing colleagues without whose immense efforts I would not have been able to fulfil my responsibilities.”
Sir Matt Baggott held what is considered one of the toughest jobs in policing for almost five years
He added: “It has been in particular, a God given privilege to serve in Northern Ireland and the continuing journey to peace will remain in my thoughts and prayers.”
In addition to Sir Matt’s knighthood, three Police Service of Northern Ireland officers have been awarded the Queen’s Police Medal, while the governor of Maghaberry Prison, Patrick Maguire, received a CBE.
Prof Barnett has been Vice Chancellor of Ulster University (UU) since 2006.
Prof Richard Barnett’s colleagues said his knighthood was a “fitting recognition” of his tenure as Vice Chancellor of Ulster University.
A UU spokesperson said: “This is a well deserved honour which recognises both Prof Barnett’s leadership in higher education and his contribution to business and the economy in Northern Ireland.”