An elderly man was killed by a runaway horse in a tragic accident at an agricultural show.
Wesley McNeill (89) was as sprightly as a man of 60 right until the accident at Castlewellan Agricultural Show on Saturday, his heartbroken daughter Hazel said.
Mr McNeill, from Claragh Road near Clough, was a retired farmer who loved horses.
Hazel was on her way to meet her father at the show with her husband Peter and son Samuel when she received the news.
“Daddy was as fit and active as a man of 60. He was very young for his age and always fit and healthy. He was very interested in horses and it is ironic that he was killed by a horse,” she said.
“It was a loose horse that bolted. People had been chasing it for several minutes. Nobody could have predicted that this could have happened.
“A very, very good friend of his was at the scene. A neighbour then phoned us and said he had been hit by a horse.”
The family is awaiting the results of a post-mortem by the Coroner’s Office.
Hazel, an only child, said the family had many happy memories to comfort them.
“He was a lovely man, full of humour and jokes. He always had a positive attitude to life.
“He was a great Christian and was very involved in his church, Ballywillwill Gospel Hall.”
Police confirmed yesterday that they were investigating the circumstances of the accident.
Fidelma Carrin, publicity officer of Castlewellan Agricultural show, said: “It appears that the pony and rider were practising to take part in the hunter class when the pony bolted and kicked the unfortunate man. People tried to catch the pony but couldn’t.”
“Members of the St John Ambulance Brigade were quickly on the scene as well as our on-site doctor, but the man is thought to have died on the scene.
“The show committee is co-operating fully with an ongoing inquiry into the accident.”
DUP MLA Jim Wells said that the area had suffered a series of tragedies over the past few months — four police officers were killed in a car crash near Warrenpoint in November, three were killed in a light aircraft crash near Kilkeel last month, and a bandswoman died in Killyleagh on the Twelfth after a car went out of control.
“This latest tragedy adds to the mourning,” said Mr Wells. “I have personally been to six of those funerals, and again our hearts go out to a grieving south Down family.”
Desmond Patterson, an Ulster Unionist councillor for Castlewellan, said: “I knew Wesley McNeill. His death comes as a terrible shock to the community and to his family in particular. We’re all stunned.”
Mr McNeill was a member of Ballywillwill Gospel Hall, three miles from Clough, where fellow member and businessman Walter Watson described him as “one of life’s gentlemen”.
“We’re stunned,” said Mr Watson. “Wesley was in his late 80s, but had a mind as sharp as a needle.
“He will be sorely missed in our fellowship.”
The funeral will be on Tuesday at 3pm at Clough Presbyterian Church.