Ronan Is Delighted With His Field Of Dreams

Sunflower Field Near Downpatrick Supporting Macmillan Cancer

Sunflower Field Near Downpatrick Supporting Macmillan Cancer

All Lives Are Precious (Alps) has produced a sunflower field to aid mental wellbeing and to support Macmillan Cancer.

Just outside Downpatrick, on the Strangford Road a couple of hundred yards past the junction for the Quoile Pondage, lies a ‘field of dreams’.

Ronan Gilchrist from Downpatrick, the driving force behind ALPS, said: “It all started from a joke really. I was chatting to landowner Lawrence McVeigh who is a joiner by trade and I just casually said to him, ‘Would you have any land I could use’. We both laughed at first, but as the conversation developed, the idea of a sunflower field seeded itself so to speak in my imagination.

Ronan Gilchrist of ALPS, in his field of dreams, raising funds for Macmillan Cancer in a sea of sunflowers.

“Lawrence was up for the idea right away and I got to work on the organisation of it. With the help of Gregory Taggart and Graham Fury, the field was ploughed in March and over a million seeds were sown in May.

“From the beginning it has been a team effort. Lawrence has helped out in a number of ways and has been an inspiration. A close family member of Lawrence recently suffered from cancer and he knows the importance of supporting cancer charities.

“I did not need to advertise this fund-raising idea. I just put up one post up on Facebook and it just took off. I was inspired by Kevin Costner’s words in ‘A Field of Dreams’: “If you build it, they will come‘.

“And they did. They came from all over the country to support ALPS and Macmillan Cancer. Love Island star Matthew McNabb even brought along a few attractive ladies to adorn the sunflower field and it certainly helped get the word out.”

Ronan explained that people can come along and get a small bunch for £5 or 12 for £10. The funds raised go to Macmillan Cancer, a very worthy cause. He said: “It is free to get in and there have been literally around 5000 people signed in so far.

Fiadh Rooney from Hilltown with her Barbie all smiles in the sunflower field near Downpatrick.

“They all have to be signed in for traceability due to Covid-19. We put on free tea and coffee for the visitors. We will be open this weekend for the next two weekends, but you can visit by appointment during the week by dropping a message onto the ALPS Facebook page. Our opening hours are from 11-7.00m. Just let us know the time you want to visit.

“The weather has not been great for sunflowers this year… it’s been a bit cold and dry, but they are still a sight to see. People have really enjoyed their visits. There is a great view from the top of the foeld and there is good accessibility for disabled vehicles. We have a golf buggy to transport people up the path if they need a lift.

“The buggy was lent to us courtesy of Wilsons of Rathkenny, a car dealership, and we are very grateful to them for their kind assistance.”

Ronan said that the youngest visitor to the sunflower field was just 10 days old, and the oldest was 103 years old. He added that a family celebrated a 90th birthday with a picnic party.

“Other groups too have helped out such as Downpatrick Scouts, and there has been a great support from volunteers to help at the reception, manage the car park, and help out at the field. So thank you to all of them for making this field of dreams come true. It is such an uplifting place and people definitely feel the better for the visit and for helping Macmillan Cancer.”

Amazed at the response to the sunflower field fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer: Laurence McVeigh with family members: (l-r) Rosemary and Malachy, his mother and father, and Phil and Willie, aunt and uncle.

ALPS grew from a mental health / suicide prevention charity set up by Ronan Gilchrist. It has been very successful growing from a one-person operation to having 3 offices over Northern Ireland providing 5 counsellors, 5 facillitators with a large body of volunteers, and has partnership groups too in the south of Ireland.

‘We put over 50 people a week through counselling sessions. Mental health and wellbeing is an area that needs a lot more resources to meet the demands in our society today. Covid-19 has certainly made these demands greater.”

So, why not come along and get a bunch of lovely sunflowers to grace your window sill or living room ?

Contact Ronan at the ALPS FACEBOOK page. The sunflower field will run for another 2 weeks on Saturday and Sunday but it will gradually slow down into the autumn.

“Every cloud has a silver lining. We are thinking of making fatballs with sunflower seeds for the birds for winter. This could also be a wee fundraiser for the worthy cause,” said Ronan.