Freedom of the Borough of Larne was conferred on Friday upon four men in recognition of years of unstinting community service.
It was one of the last acts of Larne Borough Council before amalgamation with the authorities in Carrickfergus and Ballymena to form the new Mid and East Antrim super council on April 1.
Two former mayors of Larne – Alderman Roy Beggs and Ald Jack McKee – each with nearly 42 years’ unbroken service with the council, were enrolled as freemen along with Glenarm GP and community activist Dr Bennie Glover and retired police officer and Queen’s Police Medal recipient, Noel Rogan.
The magnificently restored McGarel Town Hall was the appropriate setting for a ceremony attended by an invited audience comprised of councillors and officers, family members and other guests of the new freemen.
Councillors wearing robes lined a dais as the quartet was led to the front of the main hall behind the council mace.
Mayor Cllr Martin Wilson said the ceremony was a fitting tribute to the four men. “Each has made a selfless contribution to improving life for our citizens over a long number of years,” he added.
Chief executive Geraldine McGahey read the resolutions of council that the recipients be elected as honorary burgesses.
The first of new freemen to address the audience, Ald Beggs said: “It is a very great pleasure for me to humbly accept the greatest gift that my councillor colleagues can bestow.”
The former East Antrim MP revealed he intends to exercise one of the more traditional privileges of a burgess as soon as possible.
“It is my intention .. to find an appropriate occasion on which we can drive sheep down the main street.”
Ald Beggs said mayoress Margaret Wilson had suggested it should be a charity event.
“We will do it and some local charity will benefit,” he pledged.
Ald Beggs said he felt he had been ”very fortunate in many ways” since coming to Larne to teach at what was then Greenland Secondary School (where Jack McKee was a pupil) and not least because he had married a Larne girl. Ald Beggs described his wife, Wilma, as “the power behind the throne”, adding: “It is no idle comment that behind every successful man is a powerful woman.”
Ald McKee said the honour bestowed on him was “something I could never have thought I could achieve when I lived in Larne as a boy”.
He thanked his family for their support throughout his career in politics. “We as councillors spend many nights out of the house and it is the families that have to deal with the problems,” he added.
Ald McKee quipped that he would leave the driving of sheep to Ald Beggs. “I will stick to driving a car down the main street,” he laughed.
Dr Glover thanked the council for the “really special honour”, joking: “It seems I am no longer considered a blow-in.”
Mr Rogan reflected on his boyhood in Craigyhill and a career in the RUC during the worst of the Troubles. The former RUC and PSNI inspector also expressed gratitude to his family, who had endured “the torment and the threats and the problems that came with it”.
He added: “I really tried my best to provide safe streets for you all.”
The Larne Times Slideshow on the ceremony will be available online from Thursday March 19.