Northern Ireland

Co Down naturalist Dara McAnulty is youngest recipient of British Empire Medal in New Year Honours

Naturalist Dara McAnulty
Naturalist Dara McAnulty

CO DOWN writer and naturalist Dara McAnulty is the youngest person to receive a gong in this year's New Year Honours.

The Fermanagh-born 18-year-old, who in 2020 became the youngest ever author shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing, has been awarded a BEM (British Empire Medal) for his environmental campaigning and work with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Also receiving a BEM is Stephen Burns, a road sweeper employed by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, who is honoured for services to the community in Portglenone, Co Antrim.

Newry-born former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings was made a CBE for his football and charity service, while veteran BBC broadcaster John Bennett said he was both chuffed and humbled on receiving an MBE.

He stressed that the honour belonged to all the teams he had worked with over a career spanning folk music, football commentating and current affairs.

Mr Bennett started with the programme which is now the Sunday Club 43 years ago, having been asked to fill in a slot for a month in 1979.

The former teacher had been a footballer in his youth, once playing for the Glentoran reserves team, as well as having a passion for music and a career as a primary school teacher.

He said he had not imagined a career in broadcasting, which has led to many "pinch-me moments", including travelling the world for his With Bennett programme and interviewing people he idolised, such as Spike Milligan, as well as commentating at Wembley.

Amoing those receiving knighthoods was the boss of Diageo, Ivan Menezes.

The businessman has been head of the the company behind Guinness and Johnnie Walker since 2013, having worked his way up the ranks at the drinks giant.

Before joining Diageo in 1997, Sir Ivan worked at Nestle, Booz Allen Hamilton and Whirlpool.

The honour tops off a good year for Sir Ivan, in the face of some loud opposition, was this year handed a pay package worth £7.9 million.

Internationally renowned bowler Sandra Bailie said she was still struggling to believe that she has been made an MBE.

The 62-year-old grandmother from Co Down said the honour ranks highly alongside the many titles she has won across the world in both indoor and outdoor bowls.

Ms Bailie holds the record for the highest number of Irish indoor titles (29) and has earned 42 Irish caps as well as won two British titles in triples and pairs competitions.

She has also excelled in outdoor bowls, winning 44 Irish caps and seven Irish titles.

When she originally received news about the MBE, Ms Bailie thought it was a scam.

She said: "I got an email on November 30, which is my birthday. I wasn't sure about it, I phoned the number on it in case it was a scam. They assured me it wasn't.

"I still didn't really believe it until I got a phone call asking me about the details for the press.

"I still struggle to believe it is real to be honest."

The north's education sector is well-represented on this year's list, with honours going to those in both the secondary and higher fields.

Carol McCann, principal of St Dominic's Grammar School in Belfast receives an OBE in honour of her services to education, as does her counterpart at Belfast Boys' Model, Mary Montgomery.

Lurgan College principal Trevor Robinson also receives an OBE for services to education, while Eileen Donnelly, a member of the board of governors at Integrated College Dungannon, is honoured with an MBE.

Dr John Stannard, a legal academic at Queen's University Belfast receives an OBE for services to legal education, while colleague Dr Anne Campbell is honoured for services to drug policy and practice.

Co Tyrone man Stephen Bleakley receives an OBE for services to libraries and to the community in Fermanagh, Omagh and Fivemiletown.

The farming and agrifood sectors are also well represented on the list.

The former president of the Ulster Farmers' Union Victor Chestnutt said his OBE was a recognition for all those who work in the region's agricultural sector.

The 62-year-old from Bushmills, Co Antrim said the honour was a "complete surprise and an honour".

"I suppose I thought that because I was known to be so outspoken I would never be put forward for something like this," he said.

Among those also honoured were paediatric cardiologist Professor Francis Casey (OBE), Co Down-based country singer Crawford Bell (MBE), and William Coffey, secretary to the Historical Institutional Abuse Redress Board (MBE).