Freedom of the City award is ‘eye-watering’ moment, says Olympian Kellie Harrington

Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland confers three women with the Freedom of the City of Dublin

For Olympian Kellie Harrington, being awarded the honorary Freedom of the City of Dublin was more than just a recognition of her sporting accolades, but a celebration of who she is as a person.

“I never expected this, not in a million years. It’s an incredible honour; it’s such a prestigious honour. I think I’m being awarded more for the person that I am, rather than the things I’ve achieved,” she said.

“I know I’ve achieved great things, but outside of sport, I think I’m a good person and I’d help anybody out and I think people are seeing that more now that I am in the public eye. I think that’s what makes it an eye-watering moment for me. It’s a recognition of the person I am, not of the person I’ve become.”

Speaking at Dublin’s Mansion House in advance of the conferring ceremony on Saturday evening, Ms Harrington said she heard she was chosen for the award at a very difficult time for her, having been unable to compete in the world championships due to an injury.


“I had only come back from the training camp from the world championships. I remember sitting in my car and crying. I thanked her because she had got me at a time when I was down, and this just lifted me right up. I was actually quite speechless,” she added.

Ms Harrington was one of three women who were conferred honorary Freedom of the City of Dublin on Saturday evening.

Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alison Gilliland, also conferred the award on activist Ailbhe Smyth and Prof Mary Aiken for her work in forensic cyberpsychology.

Ms Gilliland said the Freedom of the City is “the highest civic honour Dublin city can bestow”, adding it was “a privilege to confer the Freedom on these three most deserving recipients”.

Ms Smyth said the award is a “sign to young women that what we do really matters” and that “women play a big, big role in what the city and what the society actually means”.

“You don’t become an activist in order to get rewards, you get very used to being on the outside, being marginal, so this is incredibly unusual and therefore all the more precious because it is about our Lord Mayor saying that people who have radical politics really make a difference,” she said.

Ms Smyth thanked the Lord Mayor for “tackling a historical injustice in naming not just one but three women to receive the honour, and highlighting the brilliant and varied contribution women make to civic life”.

Prof Aiken said she was “honoured to be in the company of strong, pioneering woman representatives of Ireland’s recent past, present and future”.

“It was a total surprise, and you focus on your scientific agenda, and there’s a sense that people don’t really know what I’m doing. The award is an incredible platform to raise awareness and to educate in terms of online safety and security,” she said.

The Freedom has previously been conferred on 83 people ranging from presidents to prisoners of conscience to people in sports and entertainment. The first recipient of the Freedom of the City was Isaac Butt in 1876. The most recent recipients were Jim Gavin on January 18th, 2020 and Dr Tony Holohan on June 19th, 2021.

Ailbhe Smyth, Prof Aiken and Ms Harrington will be presented with a gift from the city of a piece of Dublin Crystal. They will also receive an inscribed scroll with calligraphy by Tom McConville.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times