Two budding scientists have become the youngest recipients of Cork Person of the Year awards for their research, which could potentially treat drug-resistant MRSA and produce electricity from rainwater.
The awards, which are in their 26th year, were presented jointly to Simon Meehan, 16, a student at Colaiste Choilm, Ballincollig and Eilise Ireland, 18, who studies at Regina Mundi School, Douglas.
Simon was responsible for the discovery of a potential new antibiotic capable of beating antimicrobial-resistant bacteria, including MRSA.
Eilise was presented with her Cork Person of the Year award for winning an international science competition for her project to produce energy from rainwater in downspouts and producing a prototype water turbine using recycled computer parts and plastic bottle tops.
She is the daughter of consultant surgeon Adrian Ireland and Ellen Ireland and Simon is son of Dr Brigid Lucey and Jeremy Meehan.
Simon was a BT Young Scientist of the Year winner and Eilise was a winner at the Spellman Clean Tech science competition in New York.
County Mayor Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy and Lord Mayor Cllr Mick Finn jointly presented the Persons of Year prizes to the winning students, both pointing out it was a great vote of confidence for the youth of Cork.
Nearly 300 guests attended the awards ceremony at the Rochestown Park Hotel and they gave a standing ovation to Brian Crowley who had announced in the same hotel the previous day that he was retiring from politics after enduring four years in hospital.
Other major presentations were made to 'Hall of Fame' winner journalist Fergal Keane and 'Honorary Corkman' Joe Schmidt, the Irish Rugby head coach.
A special award was also presented RTÉ's Nationwide marking its 25th anniversary.
It was accepted by producer Eoin Ryan and presenters Mary Kennedy and Anne Cassin.
RTÉ broadcaster Claire Byrne was the MC for the awards lunch, which was attended by representatives from all sectors of Cork society, including senior public representatives such as Tánaiste Simon Coveney and leader of Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin.
Rugby commentator Donal Lenihan, who introduced Joe Schmidt at the event, said the last five seasons he has been in charge have provided a roller-coaster of a ride with the New Zealander elevating Ireland from sixth in the World Rugby’s rankings to a current high of second with the potential of reaching number one.
He added that he thought his post-World Cup exit from coaching will be a massive loss to the game.
“His unstinting work rate, attention to detail, professionalism and ability to structure and organise his side in such a way that the players know, if they perform they will win, has won a whole new audience for the game in this country. The greatest challenge in terms of breaking that glass ceiling and advancing to the last four of a World Cup with a view to winning the Webb Ellis trophy now presents the greatest challenge of all. In that the entire country wishes him well,” Donal added.
"Perhaps now that he is an honorary Corkman with a Republic of Cork Passport, I might be able to swing a role for him with Cork Con," he quipped.
Joe responded by joking that he always thought he was “severely disliked down here in Cork” - a reference to his pre-Ireland coaching years when he took charge of Leinster and saw them repeatedly overcome arch-rivals Munster as the country's dominant rugby province.
He said he was very “privileged” to receive the honour and had found Ireland a very welcoming place for himself and his family.
The coach said he was hopeful that Ireland could do very well at this summer's Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Hall of Fame recipient Fergal Keane, who already holds an OBE for his services to journalism, and is a Special Correspondent with the BBC in London was praised by event organiser Manus O'Callaghan for his coverage of war zones around the world.
“In a year when Time magazine’s own Person of the Year was the “War on Truth”, where they honoured journalists who were killed, persecuted and jailed, it is fitting that we should honour our own distinguished brave Fergal Keane too,” Mr O'Callaghan said.
The son of acclaimed actor, the late Eamonn Keane and nephew of playwright John B Keane, Fergal was accompanied to the awards with members of his family including his mother, Maura Hassett.
Fergal said it felt “great” to be honoured in Cork, especially as he went to school at Cork Presentation Brothers College and the city meant so much to him.
He said whenever he was on assignment, be it in Baghdad, Beruit or Kinshasa, he was always thinking of Cork.
The Persons of the Year were chosen from the 12 Persons of the Month selected over 2018.
Speakers on the day included Irish Examiner/Evening Echo managing director Ronan McManamy and director general of RTÉ Dee Forbes.
On behalf of the award scheme organisers Ann-Marie O’Sullivan thanked all the sponsors and the award judges - Tim Lucey, chief executive of Cork County Council and Ann Doherty, chief executive of Cork City. Council.
Sponsors of the awards ceremony were the Irish Examiner, RTÉ, Southern, Lexus Cork, AM O’Sullivan PR, Cork Crystal, Tony O’Connell Photography, AV3Media, Musgrave MarketPlace, CAVS and Robert Stephens Display.