Balmoral Show: NI's biggest agricultural event returns

By Louise Cullen
BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

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Image source, Paceamaker/CONOR KINAHAN 2020

The biggest agricultural event in Northern Ireland, the Balmoral Show, returns to its May slot for the first time since 2019.

It was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak and last year's show also faced some disruption, eventually taking place in September.

This year, the 153rd show takes place from May 11 - 14 at Balmoral Park outside Lisburn.

Organisers anticipate 100,000 visitors will come to the show over four days.

Image caption,
Sheep shearing at the Balmoral Show on Wednesday

Livestock remains at the heart of the event and there are more than 3,000 entries. Sheep classes make a return to the show featuring three new breeds with the Six Nations Shearing Championship taking place on Saturday 14 May.

The business sector will be well represented, with an array of trade stands, and a food pavilion.

Image source, Pacemaker/CONOR KINAHAN 2020
Image caption,
Crowds attended the first day of the show

International show jumping also returns and there will be a quad bike stunt show team.

However, the poultry and eggs classes are not taking place due to continuing bird flu prevention measures.

The Balmoral Show is run by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) which, this year, is marking the Queen's Platinum Jubilee with a number of special activities.

'The sound of mooing, baaing and clucking'

BBC News NI's Amy Stewart reporting from the first day of the Balmoral Show

There may have been a few showers but for the most part the sun is shining in Lisburn and there has been a holiday atmosphere at the Eikon Exhibition Centre.

It is a great turn out for day one. The mood is light and the grounds are busy and full of visitors enjoying watching the competitions in the sun.

The minute you walk into the showground you are greeted with the unmistakable sounds of the agricultural show - mooing, baaing and clucking.

All creatures great and small are here with their proud owners but it is the sheep shearing tent where all the live action is happening.

Image caption,
Sheep judge Henry Gamble

Show attendees and members of the public have told me the mood at this year's show is one of relief that normality is resuming with no Covid restrictions.

Henry Gamble, who has been going to Balmoral since the 1970s, told me this was a special year as he prepared to judge pedigree texel sheep.

"It's great to get back to normality after Covid," he said.

"Balmoral is a special time for the farming community, coming out of winter, and it's great to catch up with everyone, especially this year."

90th anniversary

The Women's Institute of Northern will also be celebrating its 90th Anniversary, as it returns to the show with art, craft and garden displays and baked goods.

"Who doesn't love a WI tea?" said Margaret Broome, chairman of the WI.

"Balmoral has always been our showcase event, and we have been very well catered for. It has also provided us with the income to continue with our work and we are very grateful."

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Sheep classes are returning to the popular show this year

The show's director of operations, Rhonda Geary, said they were delighted to welcome visitors back.

"The show promises to be a fun-filled day out, with so much to see and do," she said.

Mark Crimmins, of Ulster Bank NI, said: "The Balmoral Show in partnership with Ulster Bank continues to be the leading event in the Northern Ireland agricultural calendar and after last year's hybrid show, there will be a huge appetite to see a return to the full-scale event."

Online tickets

There is no need to show Covid-19 status at this year's event but some mitigations have been maintained, including a recommendation that those attending take a lateral flow test beforehand.

Image caption,
Spectators inspect the cows on show at Balmoral on Wednesday

Visitors are required to book tickets online, and the organisers have made changes to the layout of the venue to facilitate social distancing.

There is also additional ventilation in indoor areas, sanitising stations around the site and cashless transactions.

People have been urged to use public transport where possible, with full details available on the Translink website.

Police have advised motorists to take care and leave extra time for journeys.

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