Opinion

It’s time for the National Ploughing Championships to come north

The coming days will see the best part of 300,000 people head for Tullamore to take in the sights and sounds of this year’s National Ploughing Championships.

But, if the current weather patterns are maintained, it could be a very wet and soggy experience for all those involved.

Ground conditions are bound to cut-up badly, which could take the fun out of the entire experience, particularly for family groups with young children in tow.

Meanwhile, up in Co. Down, the most suitable site on this island for an event that takes in the scale of the National Ploughing Championships lies vacant. 

Balmoral Park, on the outskirts of Lisburn, is the home of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS). The site takes in 400ac with hard standing available throughout. In addition, the recently-completed Eikon Centre, also owned by the RUAS, boasts 10,000m² of indoor exhibition space.

And, just to complete the picture, lying-in to the site is a large acreage of excellent tillage ground, which could be used to host the actual ploughing competitions.

The road network in the vicinity of the Balmoral site is excellent. It lies adjacent to the main arterial route from Belfast to Dublin and the main M1 motorway heading west from Belfast.

I would hazard a guess that it would be easier for any person located north of Dublin to get to Balmoral than it would be for him or her to attend this year’s National Ploughing Championships.

So, given this scenario, why should the organising team behind Ireland’s largest public event not look seriously at the option of taking it to Balmoral Park?

The only fly in the ointment, I am assuming, is the fact that the site in question is located in Northern Ireland. But why should this be a problem?

Are we not supposed to be an all-island agri-food industry? Ongoing developments within the dairy, beef, sheep and pig sectors – which amplify the cross-border nature of these sectors – bear out this reality in full.

So, given this backdrop, why not bring the National Ploughing Championships north?

Brexit, of course, is the critical challenge now confronting the farming and food industries on this island. No one really knows how this issue will play out over the coming months.

But it strikes me that hosting the National Ploughing Championships at Balmoral would send out the strongest possible signal that the rational development of Irish agriculture and food will not be put off-course by any external developments, no matter how significant.

The novelty factor alone is bound to attract huge crowds from across Ireland to Balmoral Park. It all adds up to a good deal, I think, for everyone involved with the National Ploughing Championships.

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