A Kilcormac native and garda sergeant has been honoured for her humanitarian work in Haiti and Kenya this week.
Ann Byrne, who is attached to Clogherhead Garda Station in Drogheda was handed the AGSI Award for Excellence at the Association of Garda Sergeants annual delegate conference in Killarney.
Ann has been helping those less fortunate since 2010 at great personal expense financially and in time sacrificed in the service of others.
Speaking to the Offaly Independent, Ann said she was "gobsmacked" to receive the award.
"You get on with these things without ever expecting to get any acknowledgement, so it was a big surprise," she said.
"I started volunteering in April 2010 when I saw footage of the little children of Haiti following the earthquake, I felt I just had to physically do something."
Ann went about fundraising in Kilcormac where she still has many friends and family, as well as in Clogherhead, and says without such support she wouldn't have been able to do what she does now, year in-year out.
Ann has dedicated over 30 years service to the people of Louth and An Garda Síochána. Additionally,she has reached out her hand of friendship and support to communities abroad that have suffered greatly through no fault of their own.
So how does it differ from her day to day job?
"Well, in my day-to-day, it's all about community policing, getting to know the local community. And with volunteering it's about getting to know the local people too. There's a women's group in Kenya now who are helping people to help themselves. In my case it's about putting up bricks and mortar."
Described as “a woman that has a great compassion for young and old” by AGSI general secretary John Jacob, also from Kilcormac, said it was Ann's compassion that led her to embark on a selfless mission.
In 2010, Ann travelled to Haiti as a relief worker for Haven, and within three months of the earthquake, she was part of a team building new houses for small villages of 300-400 people.
In 2012 Ann volunteered again, this time with Irish charity Haiti Orphanage Project Espwa, meaning 'hope'.
Ann found herself on an impoverished Haitian island called Illeavache, where an old sub-standard orphanage was located. Along with her colleagues, they set about upgrading the facilities at the orphanage and built an extension with new accommodation and a physiotherapy room for children with disabilities.
Ann and her colleagues brought the orphanage up to an acceptable standard for the children to live in comfort. Ann recalls her greatest moment – when they moved the children into the new facility. She identified this as a time of pride, satisfaction and great pleasure.
“Did you know that from Dublin to Illeavache is a 7-hour flight via New York, followed by a 5-hour flight to Haiti followed by 5 hours by bus followed by 1 hour by boat? Ann has made this trip seven times sometimes twice a year to help others,” Mr Jacob said in tribute.
"Ann’s motivation is simple," he added, "She is led back time and time again by the smile on the children’s faces. When she arrives at the orphanage, these children have nothing, but when Ann arrives they have her kindness and love and of course she always brings something with her."
In 2014, Ann turned her attention to Africa. She volunteered with the Friends from Ireland Project. She travelled to Kenya, again at considerable personal expense, to help build a school for some of the most deprived children on the continent. She has visited Kenya three times since.
"I'm going to Kenya again in September to a community called Gallana," said Ann.
"It is very remote and very poor. We have built three primary schools and a library there, and in September we will be building a secondary school. So, where we once started out with only a handful of children, we now have hundreds learning English and Maths and many skills," said Ann, who says Friends From Ireland can always do with more volunteers.
"People think of volunteering but it's fear that puts them off. People should ring up their chosen charity and ask them all the questions they can think of because it's the chance of a lifetime."
John Jacob said it was "Ann’s voluntary work in Haiti and most recently in Kenya is a reflection of her kind, caring and determined nature, characteristics she equally employs in her role as a member of An Garda Síochána." continued John.
"An excellent ambassador for the force, it is with huge satisfaction and pride that I now bestow the 2017 AGSI Excellence Award to Ann," stated John before using musician Seth Parker's lyrics, “You may not have saved a lot of money in your life, but if you have saved a lot of heartaches for other folks, you are a pretty rich man" to describe how selfless and caring Ann is.