The biggest event in the rural calendar is in rude health going into the second half of the decade as the massive turnout at the Balmoral Show on Thursday proved.
Wednesday’s opening day was busy, but the second of the three had an even greater buzz with visitors flocking to the Maze in huge numbers.
Such was the vote of confidence in the new venue, many of those I spoke to are now questioning why it wasn’t moved to a larger, more rural site, from the King’s Hall many years ago.
The old venue in south Belfast served the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society well for 144 years before the switch to the site of the former Maze prison near Lisburn three years ago.
However, the sheer scale of the expanded show has breathed fresh life into what is a much-loved Northern Ireland institution.
“It has everything the King’s Hall had but there’s much more going on than there every was, and I’ve been going every year since I was no age,” Davy Thompson from Antrim said.
On a lovely day like today there’s nowhere I’d rather be than the Balmoral ShowRetired farmer Davy Thompson
Now retired from farming, Mr Thompson described the Balmoral Show as “unmissable,” particularly as he doesn’t get too see as many friendly faces as he did when he was working full time.
“There are people I meet here I wouldn’t see from one year to the next so it’s a great chance to catch up with what’s going on,” he said.
“I know a lot of country people who were never that happy driving into Belfast but they all like the Maze, and on a lovely day like today there’s nowhere I’d rather be than the show. It’s the best day of the year by far,” Mr Thompson added.
Dot Maguire from Omagh was at Balmoral with her sister and a number of other relatives. She also said what was on offer was going down well with her extended family, aged from 12 months to 72.
“We go to the show every year and I think this is the best yet. There’s so much for the wee ones it’s great. I like all that’s going on in the [livestock] show rings but it’s lovely taking the younger ones into the animal petting too and seeing their faces.
“I would a lot of people look forward to the Balmoral Show more than anything else all year,” Mrs Maguire added.
The Jason Smyth Adrenaline Tour motorbike and quad stunt show proved a big draw on Wednesday afternoon and the display scheduled for last night was much anticipated yesterday afternoon. The ongoing demonstration of the Lely robotic milking machine – where the 40 cows in the pen go into a stall to be automatically milked at a time of their choosing – also attracted good crowds throughout the day.
Lagan Valley MLA Brenda Hale attended the show on Thursday and said she was proud to have it in her constituency.
“I think this year it has a more professional edge to it – more like the county shows they have in England. People are coming here and they are expecting high standard stalls, good quality food products, and the show is rising to that standard.”
The DUP representative added: “It’s good for the local shops too and the pubs and restaurants in Hillsborough and Lisburn all benefitting because people just aren’t staying on site.”