Two Donegal women were among 77 young people honoured for their achievements by President Michael D. Higgins in Dublin Castle as part of the Gaisce Gold Award Ceremony earlier this week.

Sorcha McElchar from Castlefin and Emma McKinley from Falcarragh were both celebrated on the day for their dedication towards personal development.

A proud Sorcha McElchar from Castlefin receiving her Gold Award off Michael D. Higgins at the Gold Award Ceremony in Dublin

During her Gaisce journey, Sorcha learned to play the guitar, improved her general fitness through gym work, dance and yoga and volunteered with children at her local youth club.

Speaking about undertaking Gaisce, Sorcha said, “For me the Physical element of my award was always going to be the most difficult.  Not to mention that once you are over the age of 18, it is very hard to find dance classes in Donegal.  While I was looking for dance classes I thought I’d work on increasing my strength and flexibility, which was virtually non-existent to be honest!  I went to the gym and started yoga.  It was really difficult at the beginning.  I was sore and tired all the time, but after a few weeks it started to get better.  I wouldn't be as tired after a workout and my flexibility increased dramatically”.

Falcarragh native, Emma McKinley, who described her Gaisce Gold Journey as “challenging, inspiring and AMAZING”, dedicated an hour each week for 52 weeks to learning German and becoming more active through cycling and swimming in order to achieve her Award. As part of the Award, Emma became more involved in her local community by coaching Gaelic football, volleyball and athletics teams. Emma’s Gaisce Journey Gaisce Award experience culminated with her setting up a charity, ‘The Thumbs Up Cycle’, where she organised and took part in a 720km cycle from Mizen Head to Malin Head to raise money for the RNLI after the death of a relative at sea. Emma also volunteered with Barretstown Camp at Barretstown Castle in Co. Kildare where she helped run a summer camp for children living with haemophilia.

Emma McKinley from from Falcarragh receiving her Gaisce Gold Award from President Michael D. Higgins

Speaking about the Gaisce Award, Emma said, “I first started my Gaisce journey in 2005 with the bronze award, so the Gold award has been a long time coming but a challenge I am delighted to have finally achieved. Through this award, I have overcome many challenges. Through my physical skill, as well as competing in many cycling sportives across the country, I finally learned how to swim, something which I had always been afraid of doing.”

2FM DJ and RTE presenter, Eoghan McDermott, acted as MC on the day where a variety of personal achievements were recognised. In total, Patron of Gaisce President Michael D. Higgins, presented 78 inspirational young people from across Ireland with their prestigious Gaisce Gold Awards. This is the largest number of young people to have been honoured in any one ceremony since Gaisce, The President’s Award was founded in 1985. This year’s Awardees hail from 26 counties and 52 Gaisce Award Partners.

Speaking about the Awardees, John Cunningham, Chairman of Gaisce – The President’s Award said, “I would like to congratulate all of the Gold Award recipients on completing their Gaisce journey. Although the pillars of the Gaisce programme remain the same every year, each Gaisce experience is as unique and expansive as our participants determine. I would like to sincerely thank our Gold Awardees for enriching our Gaisce story”.

If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Donegal Now editorial team. Between 9am and 5pm Monday to Sunday please call 074 9112712. Between 5pm and midnight please call or text 086 792 2103. Or you can email [email protected] at any time.