One seasoned visitor is crossing his fingers for a first prize rosette when the Balmoral Show gets under way today, following no fewer than eight second prize wins in 2013.
Albert Connolly, a 69-year-old beef farmer from Ballynahinch, has been attending the annual agricultural extravaganza since he was aged just 11, and said that last year was one of the best he can remember.
He is hoping for a repeat of the atmosphere which made it such a success, and for a top prize spot for one of the nine Charolais cattle he is entering (out of his 84-strong pedigree herd) in the wake of his 2013 runner-up wins.
Mr Connolly, who has shown cattle at the show for 35 years, also hopes to repeat his success in the “best presentation stand” in the beef section – something he has won three years “on the trot”.
“There have been a lot of changes down the times,” he said.
“It’s the feel of the place now. There’s much more room and a lot more atmosphere – especially last year.”
He said that one big change over the decades is that, in addition to being just a get-together for farmers, it has become a big business opportunity with more and more cattle-buyers purchasing his livestock at the event.
However, it remains a red-letter day in the social calendar too. “The thing about farming folk is they go there and get to meet people they haven’t maybe seen for years,” he said.
“It is the main event of the year. It’s the best show we have in the north. It’s the main attraction for farmers throughout the year.”
It will be a difficult stretch to beat his favourite year of all – 1982, when his bull called Brompton Petition won overall cattle champion – and he acknowledged that there needed to be improvements to the traffic access to the new site following last year’s historic move from the King’s Hall in south Belfast to the Maze.
But he added: “I’m optimistic. I’m hoping everything will go as well as it did last year. I’m just hoping the weather stays good, and everybody comes and enjoys themselves.”
But Laura Young, spokeswoman for the Met Office, said: “I wouldn’t say it’s doom-and-gloom. But it’s not going to be glorious sunshine either.”
The prediction is for a cool start today, with cloud and sporadic showers forecast for the morning. The afternoon will be drier but probably sunless, with a maximum temperature of 14 to 16 degrees Celsius. Thursday is described as cloudy all day, with highs of up to 18C, and possible sunshine in the evening. Friday is set to be similarly cloudy-but-dry, although perhaps breezier with highs of up to 19C.
“At least it’s not going to be chucking it down,” added Miss Young.”
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