Tim McGarry dishes out laughs and Black Santa cash

Comedian Tim McGarry (front right) and Very Rev Stephen Forde (back left) with charity representatives at St Anne's Cathedral
Comedian Tim McGarry (front right) and Very Rev Stephen Forde (back left) with charity representatives at St Anne's Cathedral

Comedian Tim McGarry had them ‘rolling in the aisles’ of St Anne’s Cathedral yesterday as he handed out cheques totalling over £126,000 raised by the public in the annual Black Santa appeal at Christmas.

Representatives of 212 charities from across Northern Ireland were given the cheques after the money was raised at the 41st Black Santa Sit-out.

Mr McGarry passed the cheques to each representative, accompanied by his trademark witticisms, even at one point eliciting an unorthodox but hearty round of applause for the cathedral choir on account of their sterling performance.

He also confirmed he had a long-standing and personal connection with the annual appeal.

“I am old enough to remember Dean Sammy Crooks who started the Black Santa appeal, and in my family it is a tradition that we come to the cathedral every Christmas Eve to make a donation to Black Santa,” he said.

“It is one of those things that makes Belfast great.”

One of the biggest recipients of money was Christian Aid, but aside from that all monies went to Northern Ireland-based charities.

The categories they were broken down into were youth, child related, family, community and medical research.

Tim, a member of ‘the Hole in the Wall Gang’, is a familiar face on television screens, playing ‘Da’ in the popular sitcom ‘Give My Head Peace’. He also acts as host on the Radio Ulster and BBC NI television comedy panel show, ‘The Blame Game’.

A former lawyer, he is an experienced actor, writer, stand-up comedian and broadcaster who has worked extensively on TV, radio and stage.

The 41st Black Santa sit-out, which took place on the steps of St Anne’s Cathedral from December 18-23, was unique in the history of this charitable tradition, as for the first time there was no dean in place at Christmas.

But the Very Rev Stephen Forde, who was installed as dean of Belfast on February 4, helped to launch the 2017 sit-out and spent several hours on the steps as “Black Santa in training!”.

Dean Forde thanked the public for their generosity.

“We expected giving to be down a little as there was no single ‘Black Santa,’ but with the help of our bishops, the cathedral chapter, our ecumenical, lay and minor canons and our own clergy, a team of Black Santas had a constant presence on the steps of St Anne’s,” he said.

“We are very grateful for the support of individuals, groups and businesses who pledged funds both on the steps and through postal or online giving.”