THIRTY of Northern Ireland’s oldest restored tractors and vintage cars will be moving in stately parade later this month (July) – turning the latest chapter of a remarkable event that has raised £290,000 for charity in the last 32 years.
Members of Mid-Ulster Vintage Vehicles Club will be taking the best of their fleet on to the road in their annual sponsored vintage tractor and car trek on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th July. And this year members will be raising money for research into the much-misunderstood illness, M.E.
“Dozens of charities apply for support every year. This time we’ve chosen the research fund of The ME Association, which does great work trying to find a cure for an illness that devastates the lives of up to 7,000 adults and children in Northern Ireland”, said club treasurer Brian Gilbert.
“It’s another great cause we feel happy to support and we invite people to give generously once again.”
The vintage tractor and car trek – including some vehicles built in the 1930s – will travel 100 miles during the event.
It will set off from its base in Moneymore at 9.30am on 23rd July, then wind through Desertmartin, Tobermore, Maghera, Swatragh, Garvagh, Coleraine and Articlave before getting to Castlerock at about 5.45pm. The following day it will return by way of Downhill, Magilligan, Limavady, Dungiven, Ponderosa, Tobermore and Desertmartin.
“We chose a different route each year and have gaps between sections of vehicles so we cause the least disruption to local traffic”, said Mr Gilbert, a retired bank manager. “We’ll be parking up briefly in each town we go through where our collectors will be out in force.”
Club secretary Allen Hall added: “These are fantastic events which usually raise more money each year. The best year we had was in 2008 when we gave the British Red Cross a cheque for £22,222 – with Jim Scott MBE putting £10,624 on his own sponsor cards.”
The club finally chose M.E. research as their cause this year – after Dr Charles Shepherd, medical adviser to the ME Association, and publicity manager Tony Britton were welcomed by trek chairman Dennis Bell and other members at The Draper’s Arms, Moneymore, in March. The pub is just 100 yards from the Mid-Ulster Vintage Vehicles Club display wall which proudly sits alongside the main A29 Cookstown road.
“We were thrilled to be chosen as M.E. can be badly misunderstood”, said Mr Britton. “No one quite knows why previously fit and healthy children and adults are struck down by M.E. – but the effects can devastate young lives and turn the lives of their families upside down.
“What we do know is in many cases a viral infection, or repeated infections, acts as the main trigger factor. The body’s immune system doesn’t then deal with this infection in its usually effective way – causing problems with the brain, nervous system and muscles.
“The body of an ME sufferers can be wracked with flu-like symptoms for years. Weeks or months after the infection has gone, sufferers are often still totally physically exhausted. They feel like they’re functioning at well below 50% of their normal levels.”
WHAT THE RESEARCH FUND IS DOING
The ME Association’s research fund – known as the Ramsay Research Fund, after a doctor who first got involved with ME patients over 50 years ago – is part of an international effort to find the root causes for the illness, then treatments and hopefully a cure.
Mr Britton added: “So far the research fund has been closely involved with the progress of genetic research into M.E. At the moment, it has money in an important study into why the muscles of M.E. sufferers don’t seem to work in the same way as those in healthy people.
“And – providing the money comes in – we hope shortly to set up the UK’s first specialist biobank so that researchers have plenty of tissue to examine and magnify in order to find out exactly what makes it so different from tissue in other people’s bodies.
“We’re looking for the breakthroughs that will help many of the 7,000 children and adults in Northern Ireland (and 240,000 throughout the UK) back to normal health, back to school and back into work so that, once again, they can become the normal functioning members of society they so much want to be.”
OUR SPECIAL THANKS…
The ME Association paid particular tribute to MUVVC member Tony O’Kane who promoted their cause in the first place. He’s the nephew of Mr John O’Neill, of Magherafelt, one of whose sons Ronald – a former Post Office executive – has been severely affected by the illness for many years.
The whole O’Neill family have thrown their support behind the event – parents John and Margaret, sons Ronald and Richard and daughters Fiona and Jacqui.