A Co Down farmer and self-proclaimed “life member” of the Balmoral Show has set out to make this year’s competition a real family affair.
The biggest event in Northern Ireland’s agricultural calendar will get under way today, and for the first time the show will be held over four days.
Organisers are hoping to attract more visitors with a Saturday airing that caters to those who are unable to attend during the week, as well as alleviate the traffic congestion that has plagued the event in recent years.
For Libby Clarke, who farms pedigree beef shorthorn and pedigree Charolais cattle at her family farm in Magheralin near Moira, the Balmoral Show has always been something of an institution.
Libby has attended every year since she was a young child and she is keen to continue the tradition with her daughters Lucy, 12, and Kate, 10, who have been busy helping their mother with the preparations for the event.
Libby told the News Letter yesterday: “My father Tom, who is now retired, was involved with breeding pedigree cattle for decades. He used to show at Balmoral quite regularly and I would have always went along with him. I loved it then and I love it now.
“I have been showing at Balmoral on and off for years, but I have always attended the event and have never missed a year.
“My two girls love it is as well and we are all life members. It is always a wonderful time and I would recommend it to anyone, not just those people from a farming background.
“I love competing at Balmoral. There is so much to see and to do and it is not just about livestock; there is the Food Pavilion and this year there will be a new Health and Fitness village, so there is something to appeal to everyone.”
Libby believes the extra day will provide a huge boost for Balmoral and predicted this year’s event would surpass all expectations.
“Last year there were around 90,000 visitors and there is an even bigger buzz surrounding this year’s event,” she added.
This year, the Clarke family is entering two beef shorthorns and a commercial heifer.
While Libby’s family is yet to scoop top honours at Balmoral, she is hopeful that day will come at some point down the line.
And although Libby is not expecting to take home the top prize this year, she was delighted by the fact that one of her heifers, Echo, has become something of a social media star ahead of the show.
Libby explained: “Autoline, which is sponsoring this year’s beef shorthorn category at Balmoral, asked me if they could shoot a documentary of me getting the cattle ready.
“Within a few days Echo had racked up more than 30,000 hits on Facebook. I have had people contacting me asking if they can get their picture taken with her at the show.
“The video shows Kate and Lucy grooming Echo and feeding her, which I think is what captured people’s attention.
“You can tell from the video that they are very at ease with the cattle and I think it just reinforces that Balmoral really is a family event.
“It promises to be another wonderful day out and we can’t wait.”
The Balmoral Show in partnership with Ulster Bank takes place at Balmoral Park, Lisburn, from Wednesday to Saturday.
The News Letter will bring you full coverage from the show every day.
Show offers great mix of events
This year’s Balmoral Show is the 149th and it marks a switch from what had become a standard three-day event to a four-day show incorporating Saturday.
As always the show will offer a mix of agriculture, food and drink, crafts and entertainment.
Equestrian events feature prominently on the schedule for day one, with events in the main arena getting under way at 8.30am with the Hunter horses.
There is also sheep-shearing competitions throughout the day while the Kangaroo Kid will be bringing his own brand of high-octane entertainment to the main arena at 1pm. Competitions featuring breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs and goats will take place in their own arenas. With more than 700 trade stands dotted around Balmoral Park agricultural excellence will be to the fore with farm and plant machinery featuring alongside some ornate art and crafts.
To get a taste of the Province’s excellent produce the NI Food Pavillion is the place to be with a wide range of demonstrations taking place, with the opportunity to sample a few tasty treats along the way.