THE new Sheriff for Co Tyrone, Emer Murnaghan, feels "honoured and very privileged" to be appointed to the role and admits it is an "exciting" time for her personally.
Civil engineer Mrs Murnaghan - who is originally from Belfast but has lived on Omagh's Crevenagh Road for three decades - said the appointment is "not something that I would ever have thought would come my way, so the unique nature of the role is both interesting and exciting to me".
"I’m quite excited about the appointment of Sheriff," she added.
"It’s something completely new, so I shall need some fast-track induction on the duties and expectations of the role.
"I realise that the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted events in the past couple of years, but I hope this year things might be different enabling me to properly fulfill the role."
She succeeds Barry Curran, of Curran Optometrists, in the position.
The role includes being invited to greet members of the Royal Family or Heads of State if they visit Tyrone, and receiving a High Court judge should they be presiding at a court in the county. Informally, the Sheriff may also receive a range of invitations to social and ceremonial functions in the area.
Of course, Mrs Murnaghan - who currently works with GRAHAM Construction - is already familiar with royalty as she had the privilege of meeting Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace when she received an OBE for services to Civil Engineering Profession and to Further Education in Northern Ireland in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
More recently, she met Princess Anne at an event celebrating WISE (Women into Science & Engineering) Ambassadors in London in 2019.
A mother-of-four and now a proud grandmother, her eldest child is married and living in Ballymena and the youngest is currently at Drumragh Integrated College studying A Levels.
"Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging for all of us," she said, "we have also been able to welcome our first grandchild who was born in February 2021 – an amazing experience to hold your child’s child."
Professionally, Mrs Murnaghan is employed with Graham Construction as their Innovation Director.
"I’m fortunate to be in a career that energises me as much today as it did when I was 18. Civil engineers underpin the modern, healthy, lifestyle that we enjoy – our safe drinking water and wastewater systems, our transport connections, our energy infrastructure, our schools, hospitals and buildings, and our leisure facilities and public realm," she said.
She was educated at Holy Child Primary School, Belfast, where her mum was a teacher, and then St Dominic’s High School before embarking on a journey with Queen's University Belfast where she studied civil engineering.
"There were eight girls in my class of 80 students," she explained.
"I’m pleased to say things are changing as more women and girls now choose STEM careers."
Mrs Murnaghan has now worked in the industry for over 30 years.
One of her first jobs in Omagh - back in the early nineties - was as the supervising civil engineer on the flood scheme through the centre of the town.
"Even now I regularly walk across King James’ Bridge, particularly when we’ve had heavy rain and flooding, to check that all is still well and working as designed," she laughed.
She was also the inaugural chairperson of the construction sector industry advisory board for Omagh FE College – a truly successful collaboration of lecturers, mentors, and business colleagues keen to ensure our next generation of young people fulfil their potential.
At national level, she felt most privileged to have served the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) as trustee and vice-president between November 2018 and November 2021.
"I was delighted to serve for a period on the Board of Governors of Omagh Integrated Primary School working alongside many inspiring local people driving positive change in our community," she added.
She has also represented Graham Construction on the NI Water Aid Committee for several years.
"As a committee, we challenged ourselves to think differently during the pandemic and moved our fundraising events online."
"One of my favourite charities is Water Aid, a charity committed to help bring clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to everyone, everywhere," she added.
She would like to thank her family and friends as she prepares to take up the new role.
"My parents who instilled in me values of respect for self and others, the importance of family and a faith that sustains me, who continue to love me unconditionally and who nurtured in me a confidence to be myself and just get on with things," she said.
"Of course, to my long-suffering husband and children who are always supportive - as long as dinner is still appearing at some stage – and to my lovely friends, some of whom sadly we lost during Covid-19."
Concluding, Mrs Murnaghan said: "I think the pandemic has forced me to better appreciate the things that I often take for granted."