logoPhilip McDonagh (Class of 1965) is awarded the OBE. (June 2011)


Philip McDonagh OBE with his wife Mary, daughter Charlotte and son Matthew.

VETERAN entertainer Bruce Forsyth and The Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson were just some of the well-known personalities a former Portadown man found himself rubbing shoulders with when he received his OBE from Her Majesty the Queen.

Philip McDonagh, who was given the award for public service in Northern Ireland in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, was at Buckingham Place recently to be presented with the medal. The self-employed economist, whose grandfather Thomas McDonagh established the town furniture company TW McDonagh, was accompanied to the awards ceremony by his wife Mary, daughter Charlotte (23) and son Matthew (19).

He said, “I wouldn’t have been a huge fan of the honours but I am so glad I accepted. My parents (David and Helene) would have been so proud. It was a very special occasion and I feel very honoured. “There were people there who had done far more amazing things than I had and it was a privilege to be among them.”

Mr McDonagh worked as a volunteer with the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland for 14 years, during which time he helped community associations with their development plans to improve the quality of life for residents. In 2009, he was appointed a commissioner with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, a post he still holds. The body is the province’s first regulatory body for charities and Mr McDonagh has been responsible for helping to set it up and to ensure that charities submit annual accounts and that any wrong-doing is investigated.

As for the awards ceremony itself, Mr McDonagh described it as a fantastic experience, “The Queen was really nice and so pleasant. It had been my firm intention to congratulate her on her visit to Dublin but I was so overwhelmed when I met her that I forgot! “She talked about how nice a place Northern Ireland was and how good it was to have the Assembly operating. I was sitting just behind Bruce Forsyth and again he was such a very, very pleasant man to talk to.”

Originally from the Margretta Park area, Mr McDonagh was one of six children. The family moved to Killicomaine before settling down in Ballyhannon, and Mr McDonagh attended Portadown Prep and then the College, eventually winning a place at Queen’s University Belfast to study economics. He lived in south America for two years, where he taught economics and then returned to Northern Ireland, working as an economist in the Civil Service for a few years before joining PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) where he remained for 24 years. He retired from his post as chief economist there in 2009, and now works as a self-employed economist.

As a member of the Society of Friends, Mr McDonagh had always taken a keen interest in the community and voluntary sector and it was this that led to his involvement in the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland. He said, “During the time of the Troubles, the work the foundation did in keeping society going and trying to keep communities together was very important. As an economist, I was also interested in helping those groups remain sustainable.”

Mr McDonagh, who has very happy memories of his boyhood and school days in Portadown, said that although he has lived in Belfast since he was a young man he is “very proud of being from Portadown”. “I played for Portadown Men’s Hockey Club and used to follow Portadown Football Club, which I still take an interest in,” he said. His sister Susan Anderson still lives in the town and his other sisters, Gillian Hutchinson, Ruth McCormick and Gay McDonagh, live in Northern Ireland and England while brother Jeremy lives in Scotland.