University of Ulster Honour Cultural Stars

Gary Lightbody, Rory McIlroy, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Alex Ferguson lead the list of 2012 honours

Leading figures in the world of sport and the arts – as well as education, business and science – are among those who will be honoured at University of Ulster graduation ceremonies this year.

US Open Golf Champion Rory McIlroy, Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody and Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson head a distinguished line-up of peacemakers, musicians, media personalities and other outstanding individuals who will receive honorary doctorates.

Northern Ireland golfer Rory McIlroy has quickly established himself as a major force in international golf as a Major winner and Ryder Cup hero. In June 2011, the Holywood golfer secured his first major title at the US Open championship at the Congressional Golf Club with a record 16-under par score, beating the field by eight shots.

The youngest winner of the US Open for almost 90 years will be awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science (DSc) for his contribution to golf, following in the footsteps of his compatriots Graeme McDowell, who received an honorary degree last year after capturing the 2010 US Open Championship, and Darren Clarke, who was honoured by the University in 2002 and won the Open Championship last year.

In March 2010, McIlroy officially opened the University’s Sports and Exercise Sciences Research Institute laboratories on the Jordanstown campus.

Snow Patrol founding member and lead vocalist, Gary Lightbody will be awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) for services to the music industry. A native of Bangor in County Down, the songwriter went to university in Scotland in 1994 to study English literature and English language.

While he was there, the seeds for Snow Patrol – which has gone on to become one of Northern Ireland’s most successful music exports – were sown. The band has enjoyed huge success across the world, especially with the songs ‘Chasing Cars’, ‘Run’ and ‘Just Say Yes’, which was used as the campaign theme tune during Derry-Londonderry’s successful bid to become 2013 UK Capital of Culture.

Actor Sir Ian McKellen, CBE, meanwhile, is to receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters for his services to acting. His work has spanned genres from Shakespearean and modern theatre to popular fantasy and science fiction and he has many television, film and stage appearances to his credit.

He is perhaps best known outside the theatre for roles such as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, his role in X Men and a surprise appearance as a con artist in ITV’s soap Coronation Street. McKellen has been filming Peter Jackson’s two-part film version of The Hobbit, whose cast also includes Northern Irish actor, James Nesbitt.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who has gained a reputation as one of the world’s most admired, respected and successful football managers, is to receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science (DSc) in recognition of his services to football.

The former Dunfermline Athletic and Glasgow Rangers player has had a glittering managerial career, lifting just about every domestic and European honour with Manchester United as well as steering Aberdeen to the Scottish League title and the European Cup Winners Cup.

Ms Rosemary Kelly OBE will be awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) for services to the arts and education. The former chairperson of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and a Governor of the Irish Times Trust, she is also former Head of Public Affairs and Company Secretary for BBC Northern Ireland.

Edmund Curran, veteran journalist and former Belfast Telegraph editor-in-chief, will be awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) in recognition of his services to journalism. Curran joined the Belfast Telegraph in 1966 as a graduate trainee reporter and worked his way up to editor.

Tom Kelly OBE, group chief executive of Stakeholder Communications, is one of Northern Ireland’s most high profile current affairs commentators and has directed many high profile PR and political campaigns.

Named as one of Ireland’s top 50 most influential businessmen in Britain by a leading business newspaper, he received an OBE in 2006 for his services to business. He will be awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University (DUniv) for his services to the community.

Other recipients include TV chef Rachel Allen, American businessman and Peace Process advocate William Flynn. The degrees will be conferred during the summer and winter graduation ceremonies of the University of Ulster. Specific dates for each conferral will be made public at a later date.