The symphonic siblings were honoured for their services both to music and the many good causes to which they have lent their support over the course of their globetrotting careers.
The MBE, or Member in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, is one of Britain’s highest honours and is presented to people deemed to have made an important contribution to British life. Non-Britons receive an honorary version.
While the band are massive musically, their charity work is lower key. Jim, Sharon, Caroline and Andrea have promoted or fundraised for Nelson Mandela’s AIDS Campaign, Concern, Special Olympics, the Omagh bombing victims, the Prince’s Trust and the Freeman Hospital in England where their late mum, Jean, was a patient.
British Ambassador to Ireland Stewart Eldon made the presentation to them at his stately residence in Co Dublin where the chuffed foursome expressed delight at the gesture.
“It’s wonderful. It’s very surprising and absolutely surreal,” said front woman Andrea. “It’s like being given a gift from another country. We appreciate those things very much.”
The Dundalk-born musicians said they were conscious of the sensitivities of accepting the award, which is sanctioned by the queen, because of the historical baggage associated with the British Empire.
“We definitely did consider the reaction of people we care about but for us as a band, as musicians, the important thing is that music itself is anti-discriminatory,” said violinist, Sharon.
“We have sold about 7.5 million albums in Britain alone and we never decided when we set out to sell our albums what religious persuasion should buy them. This is received on behalf of the British public and for that reason we are very honoured by it.”
The band were accompanied by their father, Gerry; their manager of 16 years, John Hughes; and a dozen other family members and friends. They recently released a new album, Home. It about sums up their priorities for the moment as Sharon is pregnant with her first baby and Caroline has two young children, making touring at their previously hectic pace difficult.
“We’re talking about it,” said Jim. “We might do something on a limited scale, preferably with an orchestra.”