Saintfield gets set for annual Christmas Charity Ride

Saintfield Christmas Ride BR Farm
THE REAL SANTA: Santa himself, with the ride organiser Joan Cunningham, Pius Kulama from Uganda and Alastair McIlveen of North Down Marquees at the 2019 Launch of the Saintfield Christmas Charity Ride at Rowallane Garden, Saintfield. (FW46-583NN)

FOR well over half a century, Co. Down equestrian expert Terence McKeag has been a familiar figure at all the major shows in Ireland. And for the past 12 years, he has been an extremely popular feature at the annual Saintfield Christmas Charity Ride, which is organised by Joan Cunningham, herself a noted equestrian figure.

At the launch of this year’s ride (which takes place on Saturday, December 7), Joan decided to honour the contribution Terence had made to the event over the years.

SUPPORTERS: Joan Cunningham, Saintfield Christmas Charity Ride organiser, with, from left, Alan Buchanan, Terence McKeag, Robert Berry and Alastair McIlveen of North Down Marquees. (FW46-582NN)

To do so, she commissioned Killyleagh artist Leo Casement, himself an equine enthusiast, to execute a painting with an equestrian theme.

“I just thought it would be ideal to have Leo, who is a great painter of horses, produce one of his beautiful ‘starburst stampede’ works – the current series he is executing – for the occasion, and it is an exceptional effort,” she says.

The painting was presented to Terence at the launch of the annual ride, in the courtyard of the idyllic Rowallane Garden, Saintfield, which, despite the weather of the day, provided a fitting autumnal backdrop for the event.

Of course, Terence, from Helen’s Bay, is no stranger to presentations, having recently received a prestigious award from the Royal Dublin Society’s Equestrian Committee in acknowledgement of his significant contribution to the annual Dublin Horse show and to equestrianism in Ireland.

“This is our 13th year and the Christmas Charity Ride will be as popular and as memorable an event for everyone,” added Joan, who has been working tirelessly in recent weeks to make this year’s event maintain its hard won reputation for being the only one of its kind to be organised in Ireland and even throughout the United Kingdom.

“All who participate do so for very worthy causes and, as usual, we will have Angelo Kane’s and Fawcett’s magnificent horse-drawn carriages leading the cavalcade from Saintfield Livestock Mart to the town, where the crowds, and we would expect them to be as large as ever, will be well entertained by a strong programme of fine country singers,” she stated.

“Before the start. everyone will meet as usual at Saintfield Livestock Mart, owned by Brian and Geoffrey Murphy, who kindly gave their permission for the use of their magnificent premises. Everyone will then enjoy a mulled wine and mince pie reception in the fabulous marquee provided by North Down Marquees, the main sponsor of the event since 2009. Then, around 12 noon, the Santas will mount up and led by our ‘Real Santa’ in his magnificent carriage and accompanied by VIP guests, will make their way on horseback into the town, to arrive on the Main Street around 1pm.

“There, the crowds will be entertained on Main Street by the fabulous Box Car Brian and Country Harmony (Gerard Dornan). Later, around 2pm, there will be lunch in the marquee at the mart and all will be entertained to live music by the sensational Ashleigh Kirkpatrick.

“Last year, some people were unable to get easy access through the town, because the roads were closed for a time by the police. I have been assured this will not happen this year and that the roads will be open at all times,” Joan said.

“Our event is one that gives much entertainment and enjoyment to all who attend and, because of the charity side of it, gives much help to others less fortunate than ourselves.

“So our invitation on our wonderful, historic town is, come along and enjoy this spectacular event, for you will not see one like it anywhere else during the pre-Christmas season.

“Where else would you see a couple of hundred dedicated horsemen and horsewomen give their time and their equestrian talents for worthwhile charities?” Joan concluded.

The arrival time at the mart starting point on Saturday, December 7 is from 11am, the same as in other years, but organisers would like all those participating to come early to register their entries and give themselves time to enjoy the mulled wine reception.

The entry fee for the ride will be adults £20 and children £10 and this will cover the mulled wine reception and the lunch to follow the ride.

Entrance to the marquee is free and adults wishing to have lunch, but not wishing to participate in the ride, will have the opportunity of making a donation while their child/ children dine for free.

CASH FOR KIDS: Ashleigh Johnston and Hannah Moore from Cash for Kids at the 2019 Launch of the Saintfield Christmas Charity Ride at Rowallane Garden. (FW46-581NN)

For further details, contact Joan Cunningham on 028 9751 9030 or 07775 860744 or email:


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