The first day of the 146th Balmoral Show was given the Royal seal of approval yesterday as Princess Anne toured the stalls and sampled some of the delights of the annual event which brings the countryside to the city.
Thousands turned out to watch the agricultural competitions, taste some of the locally produced food on offer and mill around the myriad of shopping outlets where they could buy anything from equestrian gear to a helmet for their pet pooch, and a handcarved wooden bowl to a brand new power drill.
The Princess Royal arrived at the Maze Long Kesh site near Lisburn, where the show is spending its second year, escorted by police motorbikes at around 9.30am as crowds queued to enter the first of the three-day show.
After being greeted by the Lord Lieutenant of Co Down David Lindsay and the Mayor of Lisburn City Council Margaret Tolerton, Princess Anne chatted with a range of exhibitors discussing topics from cutting down on red tape for farmers, to her taste in coffee.
Dr Ronan Coll, an IT technologist with the Department of Agriculture, said the Princess Royal was very interested in the measures being taken in Northern Ireland to help farmers get online.
“She was asking about some of the support and development we offer farmers relating to online services,” he said. “I explained that it’s important to ensure there’s a good training system and support service in place in order to help and convince farmers to make the change from paper registrations to doing transactions with DARD electronically and online.”
Interested to learn more about some of our local businesses, Princess Anne spoke with Robert Bell, the director of SD Bell & Co Ltd.
Mr Bell, who is the third generation head of his family-run tea and coffee company, recommended their signature after-dinner 1887 blend, having been informed by the Princess’ lady-in-waiting that she is a fan of strong coffee.
“I gave her a bag in bean-form. She’s got a bean-to-cup machine at home so she is, I hope, looking forward to using that,” said Mr Bell.
Princess Anne also watched the Young Farmers get to grips with sheep-shearing, and met some of the members of the Women’s Institute during her visit, before making a trip to Tullnewbank Riding School in Glenavy to meet members of Banbridge and Moira Riding for the Disabled group as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations.
Some stallowners said it had been a quieter first day than last year’s show in terms of sales.
John Fox from Ballyshannon in Donegal is a woodturner who sells his handcarved vases, keyrings and lamps, at shows around the island of Ireland.
He said things had been slow to start at this year’s show, but added that the economic climate was the main challenge he faced everywhere he went.
“I think the boom is gone, and it’s going to stay gone,” he said.
Gabriel Dummingan, 54, from Armagh was slightly more optimistic. He has expanded his business from selling garden furniture to all manner of quirky accessories for dogs, including once a made-to-measure pinstripe suit for a Great Dane.
“Business is booming for us,” he said. “It has been a bit quieter today but I think people are waiting for the good weather at the end of the week.”
Earlier DUP leader Peter Robinson and some of his colleagues launched their party’s agri-food policy.
“The agriculture sector is a critical sector for Northern Ireland,” he said.
“It’s very important for the future of our economy in Northern Ireland.”