A Kiwi couple told by insurance companies they are too old to drive in Northern Ireland are sounding a warning to other older tourists about the "discriminatory" policy.

Alison Kelso, 76, and husband Terry, 84, from Nelson had planned a 15-week holiday in County Antrim to research Terry's Northern Irish roots.

But when they attempted to buy a car on arrival, local insurance companies said they were not willing to insure the pair because they were over 70, putting paid to dreams of seeing Terry's family homestead in the town of Banbridge.

"It was awful to be told we were past our use-by date and we weren't allowed to drive here," Alison told the Belfast Telegraph this week.


"We drive our cars every day at home. We are very independent."

The news was specially devastating because the holiday is likely the couple's last ever visit to Northern Ireland.

While they had been twice before, Alison said the 48-hour journey from New Zealand had now become "horrendous" on 84-year-old Terry, meaning the couple "won't be coming back again".

Born in Banbridge, Terry was "pretty well" a Kiwi now, having lived in New Zealand for 63 years, she said.

Taking his banking profession to New Zealand, he met Alison at the ANZ Bank in Nelson in 1955 where she had started as a junior banker.

The pair have now been married 56-years with four children living across the world in Nelson, Turkey and Sweden and eight grand-children.

Before coming to Northern Ireland on this trip, the couple had checked that their current New Zealand licences would be valid in Northern Ireland and when told they were assumed all would be right.

It was only when trying to buy a car after arriving that they ran into problems.

They then asked an insurance broker to check with every insurance company in the country but "they all said the same thing, which was 'no'".

The companies said the risk was too great to insure those aged under 20 and over 70, who have no driving history in the country.

"So all our plans turned to custard because we were in Glenarm, which is where we have the holiday home, and we had no transport to do all the things we wanted to do," Alison said.

Terry quickly got in a huff and wanted to head home on the next flight, yet the holiday has now turned into possibly the most memorable trip of their lives thanks to the generosity of locals.

The pair had started off by doing "a lot of walking", before their story was featured on BBC Radio Ulster and they were inundated with offers of help.

"We have had offers from people all over Northern Ireland to help us, people from Londonderry all the way down to Newcastle offering to take us places and show us around," Alison said.

"One man in Derry even offered us a private tour all around Northern Ireland."

"Someone in Antrim, who specialises in graves and genealogy in Templepatrick, has offered to help us research Terry's family roots.

"That is the first time we have really been able to look properly into the family history. So that will be amazing"

While saying it was a tad "humiliating to be forced to rely on the generosity of strangers, the couple had made "wonderful friends" they would not otherwise have met with a car.

"It's been absolutely astonishing.

"We didn't ask for this, we didn't ask for charity or for people to help us out. We were trying to expose the policy of the insurance companies and the huge discrimination against us and everyone in our situation."

Yet the ordeal had shown Northern Ireland to be a "fantastic country, full of really lovely, caring and compassionate people", Alison said.

"We will go home with really great feelings about this country and this trip."