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Balmoral Show: As the sun sets on another successful event, organisers considering a four-day week

Balmoral bosses to explore possibility of extending annual agricultural extravaganza after this year's exposition attracts 90,000-plus visitors to the sun-baked Maze site

By Linda Stewart

Crowds streamed into the former Maze site near Lisburn yesterday for the final day of the Balmoral Show, which was again bathed in glorious sunshine.

The organisers of Ireland's biggest agricultural attraction believe the weather pulled in numbers which were at least on a par - if not better - than last year's tally of 90,000.

In a couple of weeks the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) will hold discussions over whether to expand the show to four days.

Speaking yesterday, RUAS chief executive Colin McDonald said: "The numbers are on a par with last year at the minute, but it's a glorious afternoon - nice and cool and sunny.

"People are streaming in, the atmosphere is great and it's only going to get better as we get to the evening.

"There's a difference this year. In the past shows people came and did a bit of looking around and enjoying things and then left. Now they come and stay. It's wonderful to see families here enjoying themselves."

Mr McDonald added that the RUAS council was holding a meeting on June 3 to consider the proposals for a four-day show next year.

"It's a big move and it would be great to get it right, but it would be horrendous to get it wrong," he explained.

"The question is, how do you go for a day longer but still deal with the logistics of livestock and trade exhibits and the logistics of the show?"

Whatever the decision, Mr McDonald was very happy with Eikon Exhibition Centre, which he described as a great addition that allowed visitors to browse through the various stalls in comfort.

"It's showing people driving along the M1 where Balmoral Park is," he said.

"It is now a landmark, and people can't believe it is so close to the M1."

Mr McDonald admitted that a system of shuttle buses sharing a road with cars had not worked and would be reviewed by organisers.

"What the Balmoral Show really needs is the ability for the PSNI to create a one-way system, as the Garda Siochana in the Republic can and as police authorities in other parts of the UK can," he said.

"I think the success of the Balmoral Show means it has to be considered seriously."

Three days of glorious sunshine created the perfect recipe for a successful show, with many first-time visitors in evidence and lots of accents from south of the border.

There was plenty of fun in the park, including vigorous dancing at the award-winning Krazi Baker stand in the food pavilion, game visitors taking up the Edible Bug Challenge run by Harper Adams University, and lively music in the barn-like stall run by discount supermarket chain Lidl.

Children loved planting peas in the Edible Garden, creating fairy gardens at the Urban Gardener stand, and feeding baby animals in the petting farm.

A host of well-known faces also turned up, including many of the Ulster Rugby team, Olympic boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan, Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll, and First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who made several visits in between Programme for Government negotiations.

An enormously popular addition to the attraction this year was the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum stand, where blacksmith Gerald Monaghan wowed the crowds as he hammered out pokers and letter openers on a forge.

Bob Johnston also demonstrated the art of traditional basket weaving using willow grown at the Cultra site, and Valerie Wilson trimmed hats.

Countless visitors took selfies with the willow bull made by Gerald and Bob, and there was healthy competition to be the best at horseshoe throwing.

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