THE Great Hall at Galgorm Manor was a truly fitting setting in which to honour a man who has been great ambassador for the Borough of Ballymena.
Syd Millar MBE was deservedly awarded the Freedom of the Borough at a highly dignified, yet surprisingly informal ceremony last week.
The rugby legend was joined by his family and friends from the 'oval ball code' for the presentation and a sumptious banquet afterwards.
And perhaps the most relaxed person present was Dr. Millar himself – his broad beaming smile told its own story of how proud he was to receive the coveted honour.
A gifted speaker, Dr. Millar set everyone at ease with a 'patter' of rugby tales which delighted the audience.
But on a much more serious note, he paid tribute to the town in which he had been brought up and was proud to call home.
"I have always been very proud to be called a Ballymena man," he told the audience.
He thanked Ballymena Council for the honour conferred upon him and paid a personal tribute to his own family for the support they had given him down through the years.
Rugby legends came from across Ireland and Britain to be at the 69-year-old's 'big night' – and even the dazzling World Cup trophy was on show.
Among the distinguished guests present were Tom Kiernan, Noel Murphy, Ronnie Dawson, Jack Matthew, Jimmy Nelson, Gerald Davies and the incomparable Jack Kyle.
But amidst the celebrations, Dr. Millar also had the sad task of paying tribute to the sad death of the ex-Irish Rugby Coach, Mick Doyle.
Mary Peters, who was inducted into Ballymena's sporting hall of fame with Dr. Millar earlier this year, was also delighted to attend the dinner.
Alderman James Currie, the original proposer of the 'freedom honour' said the very fact that the proposal had been agreed unanimously was evidence of the overall respect which Dr. Millar commanded.
"Syd Millar's statesmanship and absolute commitment to rugby football have helped make him a hugely respected figure. In tandem with Willie John McBride, he has helped give Ballymena, Ulster and Irish rugby an enhanced profile down through the years," he said.
The Deputy Mayor, Cllr. Hubert Nicholl, echoed these sentiments and added: "Syd Millar, without question, is one of the great men of rugby football."
Ald. Maurice Mills, speaking on behalf of the DUP group on Council, said Dr. Millar had proved his abilities in a global context.
"This evening, the honour being conferred is richly deserved. Syd Millar has been a great ambassador for the town and borough of Ballymena."
SDLP group leader, Declan O'Loan, added his congratulations and pointed out that Dr. Millar is sportsman who is a true role–model for all young people involved in sport.
"His commitment as a player was absolute, and as a player he won the respect of all involved in rugby. He did great things as a coach. He continues to give his lifetime's service to the development of his sport, crowned by leading the organisation of last autumn's hugely successful World Cup as IRB Chairman."
Independent members, Cllr. William Wright and Cllr. James Henry added their congratulations.
Syd Millar was born on 23 May 1934 and cut his rugby teeth on the playing fields of Ballymena Academy from where his rugby career has spanned 5 decades.
He played his club rugby exclusively with Ballymena and as a prop forward he played for Ulster for 15 years. He went on to win 37 caps for Ireland making numerous appearances for the Barbarians. His international playing career spanned 3 decades.
He also travelled on no less than five Lions Tours; three as a player playing in nine test matches, one as coach to Willie John's undefeated 1974 Lions team and one as Manager to Billy Beaumont's 1980 Lions to South Africa.
His involvement with the Lions extended to his role as a selector to the 1977 Lions to New Zealand as well as Chairman of Martin Johnston's 2001 Lions team to Australia.
He has coached and managed at every level including a very successful coaching tenure with the national Irish team in the early 1970's and was Ireland's first Manager of the national side during the inaugural 1987 World Cup.
Dr. Millar has been honoured with the Presidency of his Club, his Province and the Irish Rugby Union. For almost a decade he has acted as one of Ireland's representatives on the International Rugby Board and in his role within the Six Nations Committee, has been heavily involved in the retention of the Six Nations Championship and the establishment of the European Cup and the Celtic League.
In 1988 he was awarded and MBE, received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Ulster, and was Chairman of the Northern Ireland Sports Council in 1987-89.
In 2002 he was elected by his peers to take over the highest position in World Rugby that of Chairman of the International Rugby Board. In this capacity Syd Millar was Chairman of the Rugby World Cup in Australia and he will lead Rugby through to the next World Cup in 2007.
In the words of the obviously delighted, Mayor, Ald. Joe McKernan: "The Freedom of the Borough is the highest honour that this Council can award. It is awarded rarely. It is intended to mark out great achievement and character. Syd Millar has all those qualities."