Hillsborough Oyster Festival cancelled after losing funding from Tourism NI
A major annual food festival due to celebrate its 25th anniversary has been forced to cancel this year after much of its funding was pulled, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Around 20,000 people attended the Hillsborough Oyster Festival in the Co Down village last year. However, it's understood Tourism NI will not offer the event funding for this year. It's believed its contribution to the long-running event made up around 40% of the total budget.
It's thought that while there were a number of other key sponsors on board for September's planned event, there would not be sufficient funding to put on a show of the size and scale as previous years.
It was due to take place in the town from September 6-10.
A spokeswoman for Tourism Northern Ireland said its events scheme has been heavily oversubscribed "with a record number of applications received this year, increasing the competition around a limited budget".
"As communicated to applicants, the scheme is a sponsorship programme and not a funding programme, and is therefore not designed to provide long-term or core funding," she said.
"All financial awards depend on the overall budget available to Tourism NI and the number of applications received."
When asked how many other events, which previously received financial support from Tourism NI, will not receive funding this year, Tourism NI said: "This information is not currently available but will be available on our website."
Andrew Wilson, chairman of the Hillsborough International Oyster Festival organising committee, said: "It is with regret that we announce that the Hillsborough International Oyster Festival will not be taking place this year."
He added that while 2017 would have marked the 25th anniversary of the festival, "due to rising costs and changes in funding agreements the committee has had to take the difficult decision to cancel this year's event".
"Over the years the festival has raised in excess of £600,000 for local charities and we fully appreciate all of the support that the festival has received during this time. We aim to be back in September 2018, subject to sufficient funding and support which is crucial to help deliver this large scale event, and to enable us to celebrate our 25th anniversary in true Hillsborough International Oyster Festival style."
The festival was founded in 1992 by Derek Patterson, owner of the Plough and the Vintage Rooms in Hillsborough, as well as the Pheasant in Annahilt and the Tannery in Moira.
Last year's entertainment included the Oyster Masters Golf Day, a Magic of the Movies musical evening, a Pearl and Oyster Ball and the Turkish Airlines World Oyster Eating Championship.
Speaking ahead of last year's event, Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen said: "With such a variety of entertainment on offer, and celebrating Northern Ireland's Year of Food and Drink, visitors to Hillsborough will be greeted with a fantastic atmosphere within the town."