Little James Bannatyne (age 7) got the ultimate late Christmas present on Tuesday when he got to meet his hero Rory McIlroy at Abu Dhabi National Golf Course. The young Belfast boy jetted into Abu Dhabi with mum Aundrea to meet the international star golfer who is preparing to compete in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. The duo made the trip as ambassadors for Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children (NICFC).
Also accompanying them was NICFC chief executive, Gillian Creevy. The charity was there for James and his family when the Belfast boy was diagnosed with medulloblastoma- a malignant brain tumour in 2008, aged just two years old.
Five years on, James is doing well and is on cloud nine after meeting the World Number One Golfer who announced last week that NICFC was to be the first charity to benefit from the Rory Foundation’s 6 Bags Project. ( http://roryfoundation.com/)
As part of The 6 Bags Project, the golf bag Rory has been using during the tournament,which is branded with the charity’s signature daisy logo, will be auctioned off on January 20.
Proceeds will go towards developing the charity’s new Daisy Lodge centre in Newcastle, Co. Down. On January 21, building work will begin on the £3m state-of-the-art purpose-built therapeutic and respite facility, which is a redevelopment of the existing Shimna Valley respite centre. It will offer the highest level of nurturing support to families before, during and after treatment.
James, whose family enjoyed stays at Shimna Valley over the course of his cancer journey, was ecstatic to meet Rory. Aundrea said: “James has been through so much in his young life and this has been a fantastic surprise for him, he couldn’t contain his excitement. He had me searching the shops in Abu Dhabi for a Nike tee shirt to wear. Rory was so lovely, a true star but completely down to earth too. It was great to have the chance to tell him about the charity and what it means to us. I work for Thomas Cook in Newtownards and it was so generous of them to sponsor this trip.”
She recalled the family’s stays at Shimna Valley: “From the minute you walk through the doors a huge weight is lifted off your shoulders and a sense of calm descends on you. The staff look after you from morning until night meaning you don’t have to worry about things that are a chore when caring for a seriously ill child. It allowed us to spend qualitytime together as a family and that is priceless. I am delighted that money raised through the Rory Foundation will help develop the new centre so other families can experience this.”
Rory McIlroy said: “I am delighted to have the first of the 6 bags finally on the golf course.”
NI Cancer Fund for Children’s chief executive, Gillian Creevy, is delighted that the Rory Foundation is supporting the charity and that little James got to meet his hero.She said: “We are so proud Rory has chosen us as the first charity to benefit from the 6 Bags Project and that he has taken time out of his busy golfing schedule to meet James. The Holywood man is such a fantastic role model for young people and his association with NICFC will not only have a significant impact on children and young people who are inspired by him, but will also help to maintain Rory’s very important links to Northern Ireland as he moves increasingly into a global circuit.”