Northern Ireland fundraiser who helps sick children tells of pride at BEM honour

Gerald Degnan from Newtownabbey, Co Antrim.

A dedicated fundraiser from Northern Ireland has said he has been left struggling to take in the news after he was awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Gerald Degnan from Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, set up a foundation which has helped thousands of hospitalised children by giving them gifts or sending them and their families on trips.

Mr Degnan originally set up the Eilish Degnan Cancer Foundation 13 years ago in memory of his mother who fought stomach cancer for 15 years.

However, he soon became involved in fundraising for sick children and it has been renamed the Eilish Degnan Children’s Foundation.

He said: “When my mother passed away I had been fundraising for a year, and that was supposed to be that. But then there was an appeal on TV for a wee boy who was terminally ill. We became involved in that and sent him and his family to Disneyland Paris.

“After that people kept saying do it again, do it again. I work full-time but decided to keep it going. It has all just snowballed from there.

“Over the years we’ve sent dozens of families to Disneyland, concerts, shows, nights out or to meet their sporting heroes. We try to help all the children in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

“We run different projects throughout the year. Recently we took on the garden at the children’s hospital, we have totally transformed that.

“We run Easter and Christmas appeals and take Easter Eggs, selection boxes and toys to all kids, even those who are visiting the hospital.

Gerald Degnan said he has been left gobsmacked after receiving the BEM Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

“We do car boot sales, we do stands at St George’s Market selling books and bric-a-brac.”

Mr Degnan added: “I don’t know how I manage to fit it all in. I make a joke of it by saying I’m single with no kids, if I was married I probably wouldn’t be allowed to put the time into it.

“If I did stop it I would always be thinking that I’ve let children down.

“Coming up to certain times of the year, the kids in the hospital, the staff, they know us so well and they know in advance what we will be doing and will be expecting us up there. I would feel I would be letting the children down if I wasn’t doing it and I can’t bear that.

“My reward for doing this is when I get the letters from the children or staff at the hospital. You can sit back with a cup of tea and say we’ve really made a difference to some child.”

Mr Degnan has been awarded the BEM for services to patients and their families at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

He said: “I still can’t really take it in. Very, very rarely somebody will say to me that what I am doing is fantastic.

“For something like this to come along I don’t really know how to take it. I am very thankful for it. I am totally gobsmacked. I don’t think it will really hit me until the day until I receive it.

“I am very privileged and very honoured.”