Northern Ireland news

Gary Lightbody, Aaron Hughes an Michael McKillop among new year honours

The formal announcement of Gary Lightbody's OBE came just days after his father Jack died from dementia

A singer, a footballer and a paralympic athlete are among other high-profile Northern Ireland recipients of New Year honours.

Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody has been made an OBE for services to music and charity.

The formal announcement for the 43-year-old came just days after his father Jack died from dementia, with his funeral on Christmas Eve.

The band's 2006 hit single Chasing Cars - the most widely played song of the 21st century on radio - was inspired by his father's dry observations about Lightbody's early romantic pursuits.

"Even in the depths of his dementia he could still be as sharp and hilarious as ever at times," his son wrote on Instagram.

"He was also the most social person I ever knew. He could talk to anyone. I'm in introvert so I'm shy around strangers but he would walk into a room full of strangers and within 10 mins know all their names and their stories and be having the craic with them all. It was a gift he never lost."

Gary Lightbody helped establish Belfast's Oh Yeah Music Centre, which supports aspiring musicians in getting a foothold in the industry, and his Lightbody Foundation was established this year to support charities in Northern Ireland dealing with issues like mental health, depression and youth engagement.

Oh Yeah founding chairman John D'Arcy, who is also a trustee of the Lightbody Foundation, said his experience of dementia has informed his charity work.

"He has a real love of people here and the Oh Yeah Centre in the first instance but then the Lightbody Foundation is giving a wider span of activity to do," Mr D'Arcy said.

Former Northern Ireland football captain Aaron Hughes has also received an OBE.

He retired after the team's Euro 2020 qualifier win over Belarus, having made his international debut in 1998 and won 112 caps - 48 as captain.

Coaxed out of retirement by Michael O'Neill in 2012, the Cookstown-born defender helped the team qualify for their first major tournament in 30 years as they reached Euro 2016.

Irish FA president David Martin said: "Aaron is one of the all-time Northern Ireland sporting greats.

"He was never red carded and is a true role model for any young player looking to be a full-time footballer."

Meanwhile, nine-time world champion Michael McKillop has been awarded an MBE for services to disability awareness and athletics in Northern Ireland.

The Ballymena-born athlete, who has a mild form of cerebral palsy, is a middle distance runner competing in the T37 disability sport classification.

He won his first title at the 2006 IPC Athletics World Championships and is a gold medallist for Ireland at the Paralympics.

McKillop also works as a fitness instructor and motivational speaker.

He said the honour was about making people aware of what disabled sport was all about.

"We train six or seven days a week like elite athletes.

"To be recognised alongside able-bodied sports stars is very special."

Other prominent figures on this year's honours list include Alastair Hamilton, who announced his retirement as chief executive of Invest NI earlier this year, who was made a CBE.

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