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Belfast Zoo animal magic as sick kids and their families enjoy Dreamnight

By David Young

Published 06/06/2015

A giraffe gets too close for comfort for one child at Belfast Zoo
A giraffe gets too close for comfort for one child at Belfast Zoo
Russell, Callum and Kelly Wallace
Aoife, Niamh and Megan Downey from Newry
Little Aleisha McQuillan gets a good view

More than 250 families from all over Northern Ireland packed in to Belfast Zoo last night to experience Dreamnight, a special annual event that gives children with life-limiting conditions and their families a chance to have the zoo all to themselves.

The summer evening air was filled with squeals of delight as the children and their families took part in feeding the animals and played on bouncy castles.

It's the 11th year that a Dreamnight event has been held at Belfast Zoo. It's organised by zoo staff, in conjuction with the NI Cancer Fund for Children, the Children's Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children.

Joining in the fun by flinging some raw meat to the zoo's lions was Guy Spence, Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast.

"This has been a fantastic night," he said.

"I've fed giraffes, I've fed lions, but most importantly I've seen so many smiles on the faces of so many children and their families. That's what this event is all about - opening up the zoo, making our facilities available to bring pleasure to people who deserve a special opportunity to enjoy themselves.

"The children are fizzing with excitement. For many, it's the first time they have visited the zoo. It's a pleasure be be part of such a worthwhile event."

Gareth Beattie of the Cancer Fund for Children said: "Every year Dreamnight just gets better and better. Families have come from as far away as Strabane and Fermanagh to be here this evening - a five-hour round trip.

"Dreamnight is our best family and community event of the year. Some families even co-ordinate their child's cancer treatment to ensure that the child is able to be part of Dreamnight. These families' children are facing a diffcult time - so it's lovely to see so many of them enjoying themselves.

"Seeing everyone smiling and having the best fun ever is a great buzz for me, and it's great for the parents."

Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens on Friday 5 June 2015, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Pictured is Dempsey Courtney Ballantyne. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens on Friday 5 June 2015, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Pictured is Dempsey Courtney Ballantyne. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Pictured is Deputy Mayor Guy Spence. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Pictured are the Donaghy family Anne, Cormac, Aine, James and Tiernan. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Pictured is Gareth Beattie from The Northern Ireland Cancer fund for children. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. pictured is Aleisha McQuillan. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Pictured is Deputy Mayor Guy Spence. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Pictured is Jayden Morrow and his Grandad James. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Pictured is Dempsey Courtney Ballantyne. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Pictured is Dempsey Courtney Ballantyne. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Pictured is Dempsey Courtney Ballantyne. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Pictured is Gareth Beattie from The Northern Ireland Cancer fund for children. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Pictured are Russell, Callum and Kelly Wallace. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. pictured is Aleisha McQuillan. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. pictured is Aleisha McQuillan. Picture Mark Marlow
Dreams came true at Belfast Zoological Gardens last night, as 250 families took part in the tenth annual Dreamnight. Dreamnight is a charity event which takes place in zoos across the world on the first Friday of June. On Friday evening, Belfast Zoo opened the gates for 250 families from the Cancer Fund for Children, the Childrens Hospice and the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. Picture Mark Marlow

For some, he said, this is the happiest they have ever seen their children.

Zoo manager Mark Challis said: "Putting on Dreamnight is hard work, but we love it.

"It's a lovely, very rewarding event to put on, and your heart goes out to the families who come here.

"They're having a tough time and it's great that the zoo can deliver so special an event for them."

Wheelchair user Wendy Alexander, who had brought her two daughters to the Dreamnight event, said: "This an absolutely fantastic event. I couldn't thank everyone enough - the zoo staff, the charities and the organisations like the PSNI and the Army who put on special displays for us.

"The work these people do is just amazing."

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