Development And Alumni Relations Office

Peter wears his blue boxing gloves at the lanyon building

27 October 2020

Boxer and Queen’s University student, Peter O’Hagan, has been announced as the winner of the Rob Saunders Scholarship, funded by one of Ireland’s youngest ever rugby captains and winner of 12 caps between 1991 and 1994.

Thanks to the generosity of Queen’s alumnus and former Irish international rugby player, Rob Saunders, this unique opportunity was made available to undergraduate students from lower income households, enabling them to apply for a complete package of financial support for their time at Queen’s.

As the successful scholar, Peter will receive full payment of undergraduate fees for three years; an additional annual bursary of £3,500 to support living, travel and other expenses; alongside mentoring and coaching from Rob Saunders, himself, and from the team at Queen’s Sport.

Peter began his boxing training at the age of nine, at St. Joseph’s boxing club leading to his first competitive fight at the early age of eleven. Since then, he has stormed onto the boxing scene, winning nine Ulster championship titles and reaching three All-Ireland finals in the sport.

Speaking about winning the scholarship Peter said: 

“I applied for this scholarship because, upon reading what the successful candidate would receive, it presented a much clearer path for me to succeed both in sport and academics. Whenever I received the call and found out that I was successful, I was in disbelief: I couldn’t believe that I had been the successful recipient!

"Going from being a student that repeated sixth form, to one with a full scholarship still hasn’t settled in. This scholarship allows me to focus on my studies and my sport, without the burden of financial pressure, and I know that both me and Rob have a great future ahead of us.”

Peter has clear aspirations for the Commonwealth and Olympic Games and follows not only his great-grandfather in the sport, but the successes of his great-great grandfather: “My great-grandfather, Billy 'Spider' Kelly and my great-great-grandfather, Jim 'Spider' Kelly, are the only father and son duo to win both featherweight British Empire and Commonwealth titles at the professional level.” It’s a title they hold to this day.

Rob Saunders, along with Patricia Hampson from the Widening Participation Unit; Aidan O’Rourke and Karl Oakes from Queen’s Sport; and Vivienne Harris from the Development Office at the University selected the winning candidate. All candidates successfully completed a written application, interview and final review to beat out the competition.

Graduating from Queen’s with a degree in Politics in 1990, Rob Saunders was a hugely successful school and University rugby player. He went on to captain the Ireland team in 1991 as one of its youngest ever leaders, winning twelve caps between 1991 and 1994.

Commenting on the rigerous selection procedure Rob Saunders said:

“The whole experience has been very exciting and more importantly, eye opening, to the challenges that these young people face; it really is quite humbling. I think we have made the right choice and it was by no means an easy decision, as all of the candidates would have been worthy recipients.

"How fantastic would it be in two years’ time to see Peter at the Commonwealth Games and then at The Olympics? How great would it be to feel that in some way we helped him to fully realise that dream and navigate him through a world of opportunity in sport, and life beyond? These are the reasons that I feel so passionate about this project.”

Rob said of his scholar: “It is with a great deal of pride and excitement that I have awarded this scholarship to Peter O’Hagan. The decision was extremely tough this year as we had some excellent and deserving candidates from very challenged backgrounds.

“I felt that Peter’s drive and ambition shone through, throughout the entire process and I look forward to closely following his rise through the boxing ranks, in his studies and in his life at Queen’s. May I take this opportunity to also thank Viv Harris and the team in the Alumni Office at Queen’s for making this a reality. All there is now for me to say is congratulations Peter. Really well deserved: onwards and upwards!”

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit a graduate news item, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen’s University Belfast.


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