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Aisling Awards honour heroes of changing city

In an emotionally charged Aisling Awards ceremony at the Europa Hotel on Friday night, there were standing ovations for Person of the Year Fr Alex Reid and for Roll of Honour recipient Gearóid Ó Cairealláin.

And in his well-received keynote speech, the Aisling Guest of Honour – Massachusetts Congressman Marty Meehan – pledged to work to expand and build on the contribution of the United States to the peace process in the North of Ireland.

In his acceptance speech Fr Reid spoke humorously and movingly of his part in the peace process here. Fr Reid is also involved in the Basque peace process and listening intently was Martxelo Otamendi, the Basque newspaper editor who had flown in to be present on the night.

Opening the evening, Colm McKenna of premier business sponsor Bank of Ireland said the tenth annual Aisling Awards ceremony was testimony to the growing confidence of Belfast and its people.

Gearóid O Caireallain, recovering in hospital after suffering a stroke in July, was given special permission by doctors at Musgrave to leave the hospital for two hours to attend the event. In a passionate speech, Gearóid paid tribute to his family, to the medical staff who are looking after him – and to the young people of the country in whose hands, he said, the future of the language is assured.

Other notable attendees were the US Consul Dean Pittman, the singer Brian Kennedy, artist Conrad Atkinson, former Lord Mayors Tom Ekin, Alex Maskey, Alban Maginness and Ian Adamson, Gerry Kelly and Bairbre de Brún of Sinn Féin and Arts Council Chief Executive Roisin McDonough.

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