Residents’ fury at ‘disruptive and dangerous’ sulky race event

May 5, 2014

Residents of the Ford’s Cross area of Silverbridge have expressed anger over a recent sulky race event which led to major traffic disruption and at times presented a danger to motorists who came upon the racing horses and traps on the busy main road.

The event took place on the stretch of road between Fords Cross and Drumill Bridge on Sunday 27th April and involved dozens of participants and hundreds of spectators.

Having contacted The Examiner to voice their anger, some residents claimed they were intimidated and verbally abused by spectators and competitors as they tried to access roads to and from their homes or make their way along the busy route.

The phenomenon of sulky racing is common in the area, with horses harnessed to lightweight traps and trotted in races along public roads on a regular basis.  The races attract crowds of spectators and competitors from all over the country and from time to time they have been organised as local fundraisers.  According to some local residents, these type of fundraising events are usually adequately stewarded with elements of traffic control also in place.  They claim, however, that the event in question went ahead without stewarding or traffic control measures and that it was not being held as a fundraiser.

One resident told us that the area outside her home and many others was blocked by camper vans, caravans, horse boxes, cars and trailers from early morning and that a throng of spectators had intimidatingly surrounded her husband in his car in an effort to block his access as he attempted to make his way along the road.

She maintains that, as she returned to her home on Sunday evening, her children were left shaken and upset after race-goers shouted and swore at her through the open windows of her car for being on the road while racing was taking place   She says such incidents are commonplace among herself and her neighbours over the last number of years during sulky races and that the abuse and disruption has become so unbearable that those affected intend to form a residents group and meet with the Policing and Community Safety Partnership to discuss resolutions to the on-going issue.

Residents have questioned the legality of the races and criticised police for allowing such disruption to happen without any police presence.

Another motorist who contacted us after she came across the races on Sunday said she was “absolutely shocked” that there was no stewarding at the event.

“There is no consideration for motorists using or living on that busy main road,” she said, adding that on two occasions that day she had been forced to drive through hundreds of spectators standing in the middle of the road who were “sometimes blocking all three roads forcing motorists to sit and wait.”

“While people are entitled to enjoy their sport, would it not make sense to close the road for a few hours and have a diversion in place? There is no prior notice or warning signs on the route or in local papers. I only hope no one or any horse is killed or seriously injured,” she added.

When contacted by The Examiner, police said they had received a number of complaints from local residents with regards to the event and were investigating potential criminal offences linked with the occurrence.  A police spokesperson appealed to the community in the area for information in respect of the matter.

South Armagh Neighbourhood Policing Team Inspector, Lorraine Dobson, said: “These events cause disruption to the local community, have no provision for health and safety for those taking part and can present a danger to other road users and should stop immediately before someone is injured or worse.

“We ask anyone with any information about this event or its organisers to contact my officers at Newtownhamilton on the non-emergency number 101.”

Meanwhile police issued a separate appeal for information regarding an assault which took place during the event.

At around 4pm, it was reported that a 22 year old man was assaulted by a group of men in the area who were believed to be spectators at the race.

The men emerged from a RoI registered blue Avensis and assaulted the victim with golf clubs, sticks and hurleys.  The man was taken to hospital for treatment to facial injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening.