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Barbara Cameron says she’s ‘bowled over’ by MBE

Five times Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games representative Barbara Cameron says she’s ‘bowled over’ at being honoured with a BEM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

The 58-year-old staff nurse at Belfast City Hospital who plays for Ballymena BC has represented her country at international, world and Commonwealth level for almost three decades.

Now she’s been awarded a Medallist of the Order of the British Empire as manager of the Ireland International ladies’ outdoor team for services to lawn bowls in Northern Ireland.

“To be awarded the BEM really is unbelievable,” said Barbara who won a bronze medal with Mandy Cunningham in the pairs at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

“It is a real honour and I feel very humbled. 

“What else can I say apart from I am bowled over.

“I have received lots of lovely congratulatory messages, letters, emails, texts and ‘phone calls which has been wonderful, but I am still searching for the person who nominated me; I don’t know if I will ever find out who that was.”

Barbara says she first found out about the award whilst sitting in the garden reading.

“The landline rang. I don’t often answer it because it is usually scam callers, but this time I did, and it was a gentleman from the cabinet office asking for my email address.

“Of course, when I received the email informing me about the award, I was not allowed to tell anyone until 10.30 pm on the eve of the formal announcement which was delayed this year from the Queen’s actual birthday in June so those who served on the coronavirus frontline could be recognised. 

“As soon as the clock struck 10.30, I punched in a message to our family WhatsApp group.

“The following morning when I turned the mobile on it was ping, ping, ping. I really have been overwhelmed with messages.”

But Barbara hasn’t been able to celebrate properly yet. 

“I have a lovely bottle of champagne I have been given, but I have not opened it yet. It’s just been work, home, work, home lately. I am being very careful because of my job, but once we are through this pandemic whenever that may be, I am sure we will have a big party.”

Barbara first started bowls when she was a teenager and went to play short mat in her local church hall with her mum and dad.

“I was about 11 or 12 and soon became hooked,” she explained.

“I joined Ballymena Bowls Club as a teenager and have been a member there forever and a day, with the exception of when I went away to do my nurse training.”

Barbara made her debut in the Irish outdoor team in 1992 going on to be capped over 75 times until her retirement in 2014 after her podium finish at the Commonwealth Games.

“I felt the time was right to retire then, but soon afterwards got asked to manage the team,” she continued.

“As manager, I am fair and honest with the players and have mutual trust and respect with them.”

An umpire and senior coach, she is also involved in coaching the IWBA high performance squad.

“Sometimes I wonder how I have time to work,” she quipped.

A former Irish singles winner, Barbara has played in two World Bowls Championships and four Atlantic Rim Championships winning a gold medal with Phyllis Nolan in the pairs in America in 1993 and a bronze in South Africa with Phyllis two years later.

Barbara has also been capped indoors for Ireland (1988-89, 1992-96), and whilst she prefers the outdoor game, she has actually won more national titles on carpet than on grass! 

Her name appears on all four main Irish competition trophies – singles, pairs, triples and fours, the latter she says 10 times, with three British Isles rinks honours to add to the haul too.

This summer, Barbara organised a social pairs league at Ballymena BC.

“It was something to keep the ladies in touch with one another. We had a wee girl who is just eight playing, as well as two of our ladies who are 87 which was amazing.

“Bowls is a lovely game and you can’t give up your dreams, you’ve got to keep at it,” added Barbara who has played most sports, including international football for Northern Ireland in the early 1990s.

“Bowls has been good to me and I like to give back to the game in any way I can. 

“I had full support from my mum and dad throughout my career.

“Being awarded the BEM is right up there as one of the highlights, along with the bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but there are lots of special memories too like winning the PTWBA triples with my mum, herself an indoor and outdoor international, and my sister who at the time had not long started bowls.”

Francis Gilchrist, secretary of Ballymena BC said: “We as a club are very proud to have Barbara as a member. 

“We would like to congratulate her on the receipt of her BEM. 

“This is fully deserved as her dedication to bowls within our club as well as bowls in Ireland has been second to none.”

Hon secretary of the Irish Women’s Bowling Association Gwen McCormick said: “The Irish Women’s Bowling Association was thrilled to hear our senior team manager Barbara Cameron received the BEM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
“Barbara has been a wonderful ambassador for bowls not only at club level, but as an international player since 1992.  

“Having retired from competitive bowls, Barbara was appointed team manager in 2018 and gives of her time willingly and with great enthusiasm.  

“So many players are now benefitting from her knowledge and expertise.
“Her award of the BEM is richly deserved.”