A Donegal Church of Ireland parishioner was presented with one of the Royal British Legion Republic of Ireland’s highest honours, on Sunday 20th February, when her fundraising efforts on behalf of the charity – spanning over half a century – were recognised in her local church in Castlefinn.

The Irish Free State Salver – a silver plate which recognises voluntary endeavour – was presented to Pearl Barnett, by the Legion’s President in the Republic, Lt. Col. Ken Martin, during a Service of Holy Communion in St Patrick’s Church, Donaghmore. Several of the organisation’s most senior officeholders in the Republic were also there in person to pay tribute to Mrs Barnett. The service was led by Rev Arthur Burns.

Mrs Barnett has been a stalwart of the Poppy Appeal in Donegal since her early teens. She follows a tradition begun by her parents, ex-Service man Thomas Nesbitt and his wife Lydia, many years ago. “I’m giving my age away,” Pearl laughed, “but I joined them in collecting for the Poppy Appeal before I was 14 – that’s 55 years – ago. My father died in 2010, the year of the bad winter, but my mother said she would keep the fundraising going for him. She was still doing the Appeal up until three years ago. She’s 95 now, so now I’m doing it for her.”    

Pearl was overwhelmed by today’s presentation. “I was expecting to meet two men from the Royal British Legion at the Service, but I’d no idea this was going to happen.”

The Poppy Appeal’s organiser in the Republic, Brian Crawford, told the congregation that he was a volunteer and that he relied on the help of hundreds of other volunteers throughout the Republic of Ireland. “One of our best volunteers is your parishioner, Pearl, who has been collecting for the British Legion for years, with her mother Lydia. The two of them have been putting me and others to shame over the years, so we are here to thank Pearl – and Lydia – for all their service to the British Legion.”

The charity’s chairman in the Republic, Major Brian Duffy, presented Pearl with a record of her 55 years of “service and dedication” to the Poppy Appeal. He said the decision to award the Irish Free State Salver to Pearl, this year, was made by the Royal British Legion Republic of Ireland Conference. “Donegal stands head and shoulders among the contributors to our Poppy Appeal,” he told the parishioners, “and thank you all very much for that. Pearl, as the coordinator of our Poppy Appeal in the county, your name is always on our lips at our conference every year. So, thank you so, so much.”