As part of its commitment to making the sums add up at its new home, the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society is making no secret of the fact that it is in the business of casting its net far and wide in order to attract all of Ireland’s largest agri-food events to the Maze/Long Kesh site.
This will include all of the main national livestock shows and exhibitions. But the truly big catch within this list of potential events is the Irish National Ploughing Championships, which attracts over 200,000 visitors from all over Ireland during the three days in September each year.
Significantly, the Ploughing Championships has no fixed abode, with the result that the site chosen for the event changes from year to year. But, with over 400 acres of land contained within the entire Maze/Long Kesh site, plus the availability of large areas of prime agricultural land on its doorstep, there is now growing speculation that the Irish Ploughing Championships could come north to Balmoral Park in the not too distant future.
This was a point addressed by RUAS Chief Executive Colin McDonald on day two of the Balmoral Show 2014. “We could handle 200,000 visitors with ease and the hard standing that’s available at Balmoral Park would be a perfect location for the trade exhibition area that accompanies the National Ploughing Championships,” he explained.
“But to push ahead with such a venture over the next 12 months might be a step too far. However, I can confirm that Balmoral Park will host the Northern Ireland Ploughing Championships later this autumn. This is a dry run for what we would consider looking at further down the line.”
The other issue mitigating issue, against the RUAS hosting events on the scale of the Irish National Ploughing Championships at the present time, is the poor road access into the site. This matter would be resolved once the much talked about spur from the motorway at Sprucefield to Balmoral Park is built. However, according to Colin McDonald this process could take a couple of years.
In the meantime, there is every prospect that the footfall created by visitors from the Republic of Ireland to the events already scheduled for Balmoral Park increasing significantly. It’s projected that up to 20% of the visitors taking in the sights of this year’s Balmoral Show will hail from south of the border.