A Carrickfergus academic and stalwart of Armagh Planetarium has spoken of his delight at being handed a royal accolade.
Professor Alan Hibbert was awarded an MBE for services to astronomy on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list this week.
Professor Hibbert is Emeritus Professor of Applied Mathematics at Queen’s University Belfast, and is currently Deputy Chair of the Management Committee of Armagh Observatory and Planetarium.
Prof Hibbert represented Queen’s on the Board of Governors of the Observatory and Planetarium from 2005 until he retired from the university in 2009, remaining a member of the Management Committee at the Board’s invitation.
The Observatory was established by Archbishop Robinson in the late 18th century and the Board of Governors today is made up of the Archbishop of Armagh, the Dean and Chapter of Armagh Cathedral and a small number of other individuals.
The Management Committee was set up about 30 years ago and is representative of a wider range of interests and specialities and includes astronomers.
Prof Hibbert said he was surprised but delighted to be awarded the MBE. “It is not the sort of thing one ever expects,” said the local academic.
“My research links significantly with astronomy, but I would not call myself an astronomer.”
Born in Lancashire, Prof Hibbert first came to the borough nine years ago, settling on the Downshire Road.
He obtained a degree in Mathematics from Oxford University and also a Doctor of Philosophy in Theoretical Atomic Physics. “That’s the area of research I have stayed with,” he said.
He came to Queen’s University as a Post Doctoral Research Fellow and remained as a member of academic staff. He eventually became Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics.
Professor Hibbert was also Dean of Theology at Queen’s from 1997-2002 and is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy.
He met his wife Gina at Oxford, and after their marriage in 1969, they lived in Finaghy. The couple have three children.
The family moved to Dunmurry in 1977, and three years later Prof Hibbert became organist at the Church of Ireland parish church there, a role he occupied for 25 years.
When he came to live in Carrickfergus in 2005, Prof Hibbert joined Kilroot parish and now plays the organ most Sundays in Templecorran Church in Ballycarry, which is grouped with St Colman’s in Kilroot. He is also a member of Ballyclare Male Choir.
This year’s Birthday Honours List comes ahead of the Queen’s visit to Northern Ireland next week.
She is expected to attend a number of public engagements in the province from June 23-25 along with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.