Dan Joe Spillane, 58, from Macroom, Co Cork, cracked the whip to lead the fundraising drive from scenic Malin Head in Donegal early yesterday in the hope of completing the 750km journey to Mizen Head in Cork next week, raising money for cancer research along the way.
The Ballinagree Horse Driving Club member, who has been driving horses for over 20 years, said it has been a dream of his to complete the trip using a horse and carriage.
“It’s something I always wanted to do and I thought if we’re doing it, why not collect money along the way, and make a holiday out of it,” he said.
He and his team hope to raise around €40,000 for the Breakthrough Cancer Research, the fundraising charity for the Cork Cancer Research Centre at Cork University Hospital.
“In February, we buried a sister-in-law, who died from cancer aged 51,” he said.
“There are few houses in Ireland that the disease hasn’t called to.
“And if there is any chance of curing it, it’s only going to happen through research.”
Dan Joe and his friends, John McMahon from Mitchelstown, and Pat Fleming from south Kilkenny, have spent months planning the trip.
They are all national champions — Dan Joe in pony doubles, John in horse singles, and Pat in pony singles — with Carriage Driving Ireland, which operates under Horse Board Ireland.
Dan Joe’s son, Martin, is a Boland Cup winner — the top award of its kind here.
With help from a team of up to 14, including Noel Hartnett from Kilmurry, they transported a four-wheel carriage and six ponies to Donegal ahead of yesterday’s start.
The horses, Mischief and Sonny, and four siblings, Sylvie, Valerie, Chas, and Dave, are experienced animals well used to carriage work on the road.
Working in pairs, they will be changed three times a day to ensure they get enough rest between the various stages, with the support team ensuring the animals get proper stabling every night.
Dan Joe is being accompanied by his wife, Noreen, five of their six children — Donal, Siobhan, Paudie, Stephen, and Martin — and two grandchildren, Alan and Sarah.
Daughter, Patsy, who has been living in Australia for the last seven years, is helping to raise money Down Under.
The convoy was due to roll into Quigley’s Point last night after completing the first stage — a 52km jaunt. They are due to hit Donegal town tonight.