Over 70,000 people are expected to converge on south Belfast from today as Ireland’s biggest agricultural show gets under way.
The first of the visitors began trickling through the doors of the King’s Hall this morning, hoping for an early glimpse of the livestock waiting for their chance in the spotlight.
The organisers hope to beat last year’s record of 70,000 visitors with even more flocking to the Balmoral Show to enjoy the sights and sounds of the countryside — everything from prize-winning cattle, sheep, pigs and horses to showjumpers and motocross stars.
Visitors can also expect to rub shoulders with all sorts of well-known people, from Olympic star Dame Mary Peters to celebrity chef Jenny Bristow, and from Bob the Builder to Irish president Mary McAleese, who will be returning to her home city to enjoy the traditional hospitality of the Department of Agriculture breakfast tomorrow morning.
The competitors in the Best Dressed awards will be brave indeed if they decide to break out the floaty summer styles as temperatures are predicted to remain inexorably low at 11C, with showers interrupting the sunshine.
A spokeswoman for forecasters Meteogroup said: “It’s going to be bright but with a fair amount of cloud around and a risk of showers mainly in the afternoon.
“The best of the sunshine will be in the morning and there will be high of 11C so it will be chilly.”
Among this year’s new attractions are new livestock classes such as the Ridden Clydesdales and Miniature Horses, while the former Food Pavilion has expanded into a Food Village featuring Northern Ireland’s finest home-grown produce, from organic fruit and vegetables to home-baked breads and tarts.
Home-grown companies such as Superchamp, Provenance Salads and the Armagh Cider Company will show off their wares alongside the retail giants such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
Cookery demonstrations, competitions and tasting sessions will run over the three days, with the chance to try everything from potatoes, pak choi and pork to cheese, cake and ice cream.
And if you spot something that looks suspiciously like a golden calf, don’t worry — you’re not hallucinating the Bible book of Exodus. This valuable Brit Art style bovine sculpture — made from thousands of highly polished coins — is set to outshine all the beef champions today when it is unveiled at the show.
The pedigree cash cow, commissioned by show principal sponsor Ulster Bank in aid of a rural charity, has been created by local artists Ben Allen and Katie Blue. It will be on display at the Ulster Bank Pavilion before being broken up after the show, with all of the £2, £1, 20p, 10p and 5p used to make it going to Rural Support. Visitors have the chance to guess the total value of the sculpture's coins for the chance to win a prize after donating £1 to the charity.
Full information, including parking arrangements, is available at www.balmoralshow.co.uk.