An inspirational fundraiser for cancer charities for the past FIFTY years has dedicated her Queen’s Birthday honour to the ‘generous’ people of the borough.
Portstewart lady Ailna Smyth is to receive a British Empire Medal for her dedication to the Cancer Research and the Coleraine NI Hospice Support Group.
Describing her feeling when she opened the official letter indicating she was being honoured, the mother of four said: “Well my first reaction was just one of surprise.
“Then all these thoughts went through my head as to whether I deserved it or not!
“But really the award is for the people of the Coleraine and surrounding environs who have helped to raise so much money over the years.
“I managed to not divulge a thing to any of my family. It’s really, really exciting and I’m thrilled that the Hospice has been recognised in this way.”
Ailna revealed that it was the painful death of her mother through cancer that inspired her to get involved with local charities.
“My mother died at 55 from cancer - that’s 50 years ago this year - and I saw how terribly she suffered.
“When she passed away I thought about how I could do something to help ease the pain of those who have to go through the same thing.
“So I started by going to the Coleraine Cancer Research Group and then two years after that we started a Portstewart Committee. I’ve also been involved with the Hospice for 34 years.”
Ailna is probably best know as the founder of the Operation Freeze Knees Christmas Day swim on Portstewart Strand which raises money for the Hospice
“We began this as a family swim then Michael Moss and Portstewart Golf Club became involved and we began to collect money for the charity.
“The swim has been going now for 30 years and we raise about £3,000 each year. I have to say that with both charities it really is all about a team effort.”
Ailna’s husband Ron and family - including four grandchildren - are rightly proud of her Royal honour.
“It’s a little hard to believe but I’m looking forward to going to Hillsborough Castle on September 9 for the investiture and to receive the Medal and then To Buckingham Palace itself next June. I’m delighted!”