Northern Ireland news

'It's a positive place' - Co Antrim farmer's field of sunflowers is visitor attraction

Eamon McAllister in his son Damian's field of sunflowers in Portglenone. Picture by Hugh Russell

A Co Antrim farmer who sowed hundreds of thousands of sunflower seeds as an "experiment" opened the field to the public to raise money for charity after people started jumping over the gate to get a closer look.

Damian McAllister cut pathways through the field at the 45-acre family farm outside Portglenone for visitors who flock to the site at the end of summer and beginning of autumn to see the spectacular display.

"I've planted the whole field for the third year in a row, but every year you don't really know if they're going to come. You just plant as many as you can, it's safety in numbers.

"It's not really their natural habitat so it's growing things against the wind and they need a wee bit of care. It's reasonably well sheltered along the River Bann, low lying.

"The first year it was a couple of hundred thousand, it's generally over 100,000. I work in seeds, selling them, and I was experimenting. It was never meant to be open, it was just people started taking notice and jumping over the gate."

This year the crop has survived two storms, leading to blooms a foot shorter than 2019's six-foot heights. Picture by Hugh Russell

This year the crop has survived two storms, leading to blooms a foot shorter than 2019's six-foot heights.

Visitors pay £2.50 per adult and £1.50 per child to spend as long as they like in the field, with money going to Versus Arthritis.

Mr McAllister (44) has picked a different charity each year, with the 2020 choice selected after he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

The field is past the peak of its bloom, but people can leave £1 in an honesty box to come and watch birds flock to feed on the seeds and other wildlife who live among the rest of the fauna.

"I try and encourage biodiversity with wildflowers and there are field mice and owls and hawks that come. It's a really positive place.

"The first year we had four proposals and some elderly people came to visit and said one of their lifetime wishes had been to walk through a sunflower field and they never thought they would do it. They actually hugged me, they were so happy."

Eamon McAllister in his son Damian's field of sunflowers in Portglenone Picture by Hugh Russell.

At the summers end field of sunflower in Portglenone Picture by Hugh Russell.

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