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‘Listening to how I lifted people, that’s what I wanted to do’ – Emotional Kellie Harrington clings onto teddy sheep as she is awarded freedom of Dublin

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Professor Mary Aiken, left, Olympic boxing gold medallist Kellie Harrington and academic and prominent social justice activist Ailbhe Smyth, right, who were conferred with the Honorary Freedom of the City of Dublin at a ceremony in Mansion House, Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Professor Mary Aiken, left, Olympic boxing gold medallist Kellie Harrington and academic and prominent social justice activist Ailbhe Smyth, right, who were conferred with the Honorary Freedom of the City of Dublin at a ceremony in Mansion House, Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Professor Mary Aiken, left, Olympic boxing gold medallist Kellie Harrington and academic and prominent social justice activist Ailbhe Smyth, right, who were conferred with the Honorary Freedom of the City of Dublin at a ceremony in Mansion House, Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Superstar boxer Kellie Harrington said she can’t believe she was honoured The Freedom of the City of Dublin for lifting the spirits of Ireland, because it’s all she’s ever wanted to do.

The gold medal Olympian is now considered a Freewoman along with Ailbhe Smyth and Professor Mary Aiken, who were also given the prestigious honour this evening in the Mansion House.

No financial benefits are attached to the honour, however, there are some quirky privileges, such as the right to bring goods into Dublin through the city gates without paying customs duties and the right to pasture sheep on common ground within the city boundaries.

In 1999, when U2 were all given the Freedom of the City of Dublin, they famously grazed sheep in St Stephen’s Green.

This is why the Olympic boxer clung to a teddy sheep for tonight’s ceremony.

She told Independent.ie: “This little sheep here my cousin Joseph, he's a hairdresser, one of his clients Elenore gave it to him today and said ‘give that to Kellie because Bono got to graze his sheep on Stephens Green so she can do it now as well!”

The boxer, who works as a cleaner in St Vincents Hospital and said she has no interest in going professional, said she never thought she would be in this position.

"Honestly, I never ever thought I would be in the position that I am in now it's crazy,” she said.

"People would say ‘Oh my God I've never got a picture with someone famous’ and I'd say ‘Omg stop I'm not famous.’

"Because I'm not like I'm just good at doing what I do. I still feel exactly the way I did before, there is no difference, but the difference is the way people act around me or treat me, that's the real difference.”

Ms Harrington recently went on a road trip around Galway, Cork, and Waterford and said she couldn't believe the recognition went beyond Dublin.

“I actually didn't realise until I was out there,” she said.

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“It's really mind-blowing, I feel really privileged and honoured to be in this position.”

Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gililand conferred the ceremony that took place at 8pm this evening in the Round Room at the Mansion House.

She said Ms Harrington was nominated for her “unstinting work in the community, her caring exemplar and role modelling for young people and for her sporting achievements.”

After signing the roll of honour, the boxer became visibly emotional and thanked The Lord Mayor, all Dublin City Councillors, her friends, family, and the staff at the Mansion House.

"I don't have a speech prepared, so I am just going to wing it because that’s what got me here!” she said.

“When Alison rang me I was going through a bit of a bad time because I had to pull out of the world championships and that phone call couldn't have come at a better time.

"She asked me would I accept the award, I just had to ask her ‘Are you serious?’.

"Then when she told me why she gave it to me, I couldn't believe it, it's one thing to be recognised for your sport but sitting here and listening to how I lifted people, that’s what I wanted to do.

"To be the best version of myself every day is all I really want.”

She added: "There are not too many women on this role of honour and I am delighted to be one of three incredible women who will receive this award.”

Dublin's Freedom of the City award began in 1876 and until tonight only four women were on the roll of honour; British suffragist Margaret Sandhurst, Maureen Potter, former Crown Princess Michiko of Japan and Mother Teresa.

Ms Smyth was nominated for her work in the areas of human rights, social justice and academia.

She said she was “absolutely delighted” to be awarded the highest civic honour of Dublin City, and thanked the Lord Mayor “for tackling a historical injustice in naming not just one but three women to receive the honour”.

She added: "I think it’s a stroke of genius because there is no ignoring three women, you have made the point decisively that women's contributions are vital, varied, and excellent and it's time that should be acknowledged and celebrated.”

Professor Aiken, who was nominated for her work in the areas of cyberpsychology, online safety and security, said: “It is an honour to be considered in the same roll call as JFK, Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa, I am equally honoured to be in the company of strong, pioneering female representatives of Irelands recent past, present and future.

“However, I don’t view this as an award for personal endeavour - I am delighted that it highlights the science and work focused on creating a safer and more secure cyberspace.”

Before tonight’s ceremony, GAA manager Jim Gavin and former Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan were the last people to be awarded Freedom of Dublin City in 2020 and 2021.

Eighty-six people have now been awarded the Freedom of The City of Dublin, including Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and former US presidents John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton.

At the ceremony, the three recipients were presented with a gift from the city of a piece of Dublin Crystal and they also received an inscribed scroll with calligraphy by Tom McConville.


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