SHANE’S Castle in Antrim reverberated to the sound of gunfire and the bellowing roars of sword-wielding warriors yesterday as thousands descended on the country estate for the Irish Game Fair.
Celebrating its 50th year in the spectacular grounds of Lord O’Neill’s home on the shores of Lough Neagh, the game fair once again attracted a huge number of country sports enthusiasts and many more people simply curious to see what was on show.
Having attended both the game fair in Moira and the open day at Greenmount college in recent weeks, I was eager to see how the Antrim event would measure up as my summer tour of country shows continued.
It is difficult not to be impressed by the setting, even under grey skies.
The remains of Shane’s Castle, the towering mature trees, and spectacular views of Lough Neagh, made the rain seem almost irrelevant, but for the increasingly mucky conditions underfoot.
Of course, the estate has been used as the set for the epic television series Game of Thrones.
After stopping briefly with the deafening clay-pigeon shooting, I was soon transfixed by the living history display, where crafts and customs from over 800 years ago were played out by costume clad actors.
Warriors engaged in terrifyingly realistic sword fights, while others recreated simple but laborious task of grinding grain for flour.
Ann Mayne and her daughter-in-law Suzanne from Cragfergus Living History, stepped out their medieval characters to speak to the News Letter.
“The response we get from people is great, especially kids,” said Ann.
“When you dress up in costume, it really brings history alive for people and it is brilliant to see the interest that we get.
“We have been involved with this group for four years and we travel around Northern Ireland to different show, dressing up as people from the medieval right up to Victorian times.”
Suzanne added: “I got involved through my husband Derek, who acts out the sword fighting. It’s great fun, but it is also a great way keeping history alive.”
In the main arena, huntsmen and their hounds performed to cheering crowds.
The game fair also boasted the largest canine events in Ireland, including the 25th anniversary of the All-Ireland Terrier and Lurcher Championships, the Master McGrath Challenge and new Novice Lurcher Challenge.
Away from the competitions and demonstrations, the fair also included a myriad of stands and attractions.
The two-day event was also a very important platform for the launch of a petition to oppose increases to prices of gun licences here in Northern Ireland.
The Department of Justice is currently holding a public consultation on the Firearms Order 2004, with proposals to increase the cost of a firearm certificate from £50 to £120.
The cost of a firearms dealer’s certificate would increase from £150 to £697 under the plan.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Tommy Mayne, from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation NI [BASC] said the increases could have a huge impact on gun sports.
“This is a huge issue and we are hoping to get the message across here today and so far we’ve a had a good response.”
“At present there are 61,000 firearms licence holders in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that such a huge increase would see that number fall dramatically and damage a sport which contributes so much to the economy here.”
He said the petition was a joint initiative between the BASC, Countryside Alliance, Gun Trade Guild NI and NI Firearms Dealers Association.
The game fair also featured a Good Food Village, which I was alerted to, by the mouthwatering aroma of hog roast.
Among the many exhibitors was Barbara Hughes who has created the award-winning range of liqueurs called Boozeberries.
“Events like this are great for us, I think people really want to see what is on offer locally,” said Barbara, as she poured me another sample.
Making my way back to the car, reflecting on another hard day at the office, I suddenly realised that not once I had heard Wimbledon mentioned... Andy who?