Balmoral Show: 'You couldn’t wish for anywhere better when the sun shines’
It's sun hats at the ready with crowds of 120,000 expected over the next four days of the Balmoral Show.
The gates will be thrown open on Ireland's biggest agri-food event at 9.30am today with visitors flocking to sample the very best of local produce.
More than 650 trade stands, a food pavilion, hundreds of livestock classes and a wide range of family attractions will entertain the hordes.
But farming will, as always, remain at the heart of the annual Royal Ulster Agricultural Society event.
The big wheel was already standing tall in the fairground yesterday as a mass of trucks unloaded their final deliveries at Balmoral Park near Lisburn.
Sheep, cows and pigs - for many the real stars of the show - were arriving too, and as the afternoon wore on the sounds and smells of Balmoral filled the air as the sweat dripped from hardworking brows.
Show veteran Anna McCarthy, who runs Ballycreely Livestock in Comber with husband Kevin, has been a regular at the event since she was eight and said it's like a holiday to her.
"It's an annual event for the family," she said.
"This year we brought a tent but found a hole in it so we've had to put it up inside our lorry. That's all part of the fun for us!
"I remember coming with my mum when she was showing pedigree large white pigs. I've shown horses and cattle and this year it's sheep. I've done the full circuit. This is the place to be."
All the big names of the retail world will be there of course, but look beyond and a wealth of culinary delights is waiting.
Stuart Fraser, sales manager for Aghadowey-based Scotts Crispy Onions, has a prime spot in the 4,000 square foot food pavilion.
"This is all about meeting customers," he said.
"At events like this we can really make a mark."
Helen Craig from Ballynahinch is a Balmoral newcomer with her range of preserves and pickles and is delighted to have secured a spot alongside more celebrated names.
"All my products are handmade, it's a one-woman show, and this gives me a fantastic opportunity to get my name out there," she said.
"It's my first time here so it's going to be a big week."
Manning the counter for Sea Source NI, the business end for Kilkeel fishermen, Melissa McBurney is another Balmoral debutante.
"This is about showcasing the best Northern Ireland has to offer. You couldn't wish to be anywhere better when the sun shines," she said.
Also on site, the Eikon Shopping Village will be providing a platform for quality local goods.
Lisa de Borja, originally from London and now living in Dromore, is normally found at the Abbey Centre, but sees the show as a perfect setting to showcase her artisan wares.
"I've been here six years in a row now and it always gets our name out to a much wider audience," she explained.
Of the bigger names setting up camp for their four-day stint, Comber-based Mash Direct marketing executive Alex Brennan said the event is a wonderful celebration of the agri-food sector.
"It's great to see such a wide range of Northern Ireland food and drink producers together in one place," she said.
Ready to welcome the masses, RUAS chief executive Alan Crowe said he was thrilled to see a marked increase in entries in many of the livestock sectors.
"Local agriculture remains at the heart of Balmoral. We're expecting competition to be fierce for the coveted Balmoral titles," he said.
And among the new offerings this year will be motorcycle thrills from the Jason Smyth Adrenaline Tour Stunt Show, and fashion will feature with 'Best Dress Balmoral Style' offering prizes for the most appropriately dressed lady and gent on Saturday.
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