Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Maze ploughing ahead with ambitious plans

Grace Reid (3) from Ballynahinch with her Burrenvale Charolais cattle
Grace Reid (3) from Ballynahinch with her Burrenvale Charolais cattle

The new Balmoral Park at the old Maze Prison site is ploughing ahead with plans to increase the number of agricultural events staged there.

That's because it is set to host the Northern Ireland Ploughing Championships – and maybe even the biggest farming competition in Ireland later.

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 hugely popular Irish National Ploughing Championships.

It attracts more than 200,000 visitors from all over Ireland during four days in September each year.

Significantly, the Ploughing Championships have 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 in the not too distant future.

"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," said RUAS chief executive Colin McDonald on day two of Balmoral 2014.

"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 militating against the RUAS hosting events on the scale of the Irish National Ploughing Championships at the present time is the poor road access.

This matter would be resolved once the sliproad from the motorway at Sprucefield to Balmoral Park is built.

It is estimated that up to 20% of the visitors enjoying this year's Balmoral Show hail from south of the border.

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