Maze remnants used for showground
The remnants of an infamous paramilitary prison have literally paved the way for the construction of a new agricultural showground in Northern Ireland.
Almost 27,000 tonnes of concrete left behind when the Maze's H blocks were razed to the ground has been recycled and used as foundations for the marquees and arenas that have taken shape in recent weeks ahead of the first hosting of the famous Balmoral Show at the former jail.
Almost 11 months since the 159-year-old Royal Ulster Agriculture Society (RUAS) made the historic decision to relocate 10 miles from Belfast's King's Hall to the abandoned prison site near Lisburn, the venue's transformation is nearing completion.
The erection of around five acres of marquees is almost done, while around six acres of grass have been laid down on arena spaces for horses, cattle and sheep ahead of May's annual three-day show. An additional one-and-a-half acres of grass warm-up areas for horses have also been installed.
While plans for other parts of the huge 347-acre Maze site have been the source of major controversy - particularly the proposals for a conflict resolution centre and the decision to retain prison buildings associated with the IRA hunger strikers - the RUAS's re-development project has been broadly welcomed. Its new Balmoral Park occupies 65 acres of the grounds.
RUAS chief executive Colin McDonald said the move would provide the show with some much-needed extra space. "The park has everything we had before, but more of it and better," he said. "The food offering is bigger than anything else out there, I have been to all the shows out there and I know we are the leader in what we are about to do."
Mr McDonald said the old prison foundations had come in very useful when building the new park. "There were 26,500 tonnes of concrete in the grounds in the shape of Hs," he explained. "That has been grubbed up and recycled and put into use again, for the foundations and for back filling drains and things like that."
One issue that has concerned some intending to travel to the inaugural Balmoral Show at the Maze is the potential for traffic congestion. While close to the M1 motorway, the grounds are only accessible via a network of country roads. A new direct junction linking the site to the M1 will not be built until 2015.
Mr McDonald insists the current infrastructure will cope come show time. "In the area it will be like morning rush hour every hour at the show - there will be that amount of traffic," he said, noting that the King's Hall venue also had its share of traffic issues. "The roads can cope with rush hour so it should be the same during the show."
The chief executive is confident that the new park will ensure that this year's show will attract more than the regular 70,000 visitor total. "All we've got to do now is deliver," he said.