Heroes at national and community levels honoured in emotional ceremony


IRELAND’S HEROES, both at national and community level, were celebrated at The Rehab People of the Year awards in Dublin on Saturday night.

It may have been a bout of sudden hay fever – but there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as moving montages shown on screen told of inspirational people and organisations overcoming obstacles and adversity, with adventurer Mark Pollock, the Union Hall community devastated by trawlermen’s deaths, Young Scientist co-founder Dr Tony Scott, Joanne O’Riordan, the late Garda Ciaran Jones, Gill Waters, boxer Katie Taylor, charity Cork Penny Dinners and broadcaster Colm Murray all taking awards.

Sportsperson of the year Katie Taylor proved her sartorial strength as she looked stunning in a coral full length halter neck dress which she picked up for €26 in TK Maxx. She said her sister Sarah did her make-up.

Taylor received a standing ovation as she came out to her Olympic theme tune, Only Girl in the World by Rihanna. Humble as ever, upon accepting the award she said what she has gone through in the ring is nothing compared to what the other winners have gone through.

The Young Person of the Year award went to Joanne O’Riordan, who was born without arms or legs. Seen as an inspiration to people with disabilities, she has previously addressed the UN and helped push the Government into retracting cuts in the disability sector after pointing out that it had promised the exact opposite prior to the last general election. “I do not look at the word impossible as being impossible. I look at that word and my life and say, ‘I am possible’, she said.

O’Riordan seems to have struck up a friendship with Taylor as they chatted together backstage. Said Joanne later: “I’m delighted to have won the award, you have people here like Katie Taylor and the people from Union Hall and there’s me in the middle. Katie is one of my role models, so if people look up to me they look up to her too. I asked Katie if she’d like to appear in my film and she said she’d come down, so that’s exciting.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny praised the winners as “inspirational. They are an example of what commitment and belief can bring about both within community and individuals,” he said. “They’re a credit to themselves, their families and the country.”

Fr Pierce Cormac of Union Hall accepted the award for Community Group of the Year: “It’s a great honour on behalf of the communities and families. It has brought us together and helps us continue our resolve. It’s eight months to the day since the [Tit Bonhomme trawler] tragedy happened,” he said. “The families are grief-stricken, it’s been very tough for them. They have moved on very little and you would expect that, but coming together and getting support from the wider community had been a great source of strength for them.”

Award winner Mark Pollock, who describes himself as an adventurer who happens to be blind and paralysed, was shocked to get the award: “It never even crossed my mind until I got the call several weeks ago. I don’t even know what I said during the interviews – it only represents the backing that I got. It’s not me on my own – literally thousands of people have helped along the way.”

He said he wanted to get back to adventure racing. “I’m going to do a race in Siberia which involves cross-country skiing, camping and pulling sledges – this time I’ll be on a sit-ski pushing myself along with some other guys I’ve done races with before.”

He said it was his future ambition to leave his wheelchair.

“It’s important to say that there is meaningful life in a wheelchair, loads of people round the country, not least the Paralympians, are contributing and living life with disabilities. On the flip side, it’s interesting to see what life could be like if we recover.”

RTÉ broadcaster Colm Murray’s daughter Kate Murray accepted an award on his behalf, admitting she was nervous about her appearance. “ I wanted to do it for him as I know he would have loved to be here tonight. Life is quite difficult for him right now but his spirits are still up.”

Dr Tony Scott, who also got a People of the Year Award for his work on the annual Young Scientist competition, said he was surprised and very honoured.

“The main idea behind the Young Scientist was to make science more interesting to everyone and to see it still doing that after 49 years amazes me. There’s so many things we don’t understand – all we have to ask is ‘how’ or ‘why’ and have an inquiring mind to become a scientist. The Young Scientist competition teaches young people how to communicate. A degree in science gives you a trained mind.”