The Balmoral Show is back. “I’ve seen people here that I haven’t seen in two years,” says farmer Desy O’Hanlon. “It’s good to see it and start over. The country needed it.
Held at the site of the former Maze Prison in Lisburn, County Antrim, the Balmoral Show – which opened on Wednesday is Northern Ireland’s largest agricultural show and one of the biggest events North ; in 2019, it attracted around 120,000 people over four days.
“We are great defenders of plowing [championships], says Michael Carroll of Wellington Bridge, Co Wexford. “I said to my dad, are we just going to go upstairs, because this is our only chance to come up with things like that.”
“It’s the first time we’ve been here,” adds his father Paddy. “And we will be back. “
Usually held in May, it was canceled last year due to Covid-19 and was postponed this year; As the first Balmoral Show to run under Covid-19 rules, all participants must prove that they have been double vaccinated or have a negative Covid-19 test.
Anyone who has not yet received the vaccine can be vaccinated at the show’s pop-up vaccination clinic; until Saturday, competitions for breeders and trainers of cattle, sheep shearing and horse jumping, a food and drink showcase, numerous stalls and even a fun fair are on the program.
There was also business to be done: also present at the show on Wednesday morning, the Minister of Agriculture, Edwin Poots of the DUP, announced 15 million extra pounds (17.4 million euros) for the farmers and reaffirmed its opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol. . For these farmers, Brexit, the protocol and the Covid-19 were key elements of what is described as a very uncertain year; at the show, it seems everyone has a story to tell about the lives lost to Covid-19, or the mental impact of the past 18 months, or the pressures felt by healthcare workers.
“It’s not knowing what’s going to happen, that’s the hardest part,” says one breeder.
David Lester raises commercial and purebred cattle in Co Armagh. Purebred breeders have been virtually ‘wiped out’ by Brexit, he says. New rules under the protocol that require a six-month UK residence period for animals traveling from there to Northern Ireland have prevented northern breeders from selling cattle at major Scottish shows.
“Ninety percent of the breeders in Balmoral, I would say that’s what they’re aiming for, to go there, but now it’s right out the window, you can’t take them back,” he says. he. Rules must be “urgently changed or get rid of protocol”.
James McKane, of Ballymena, says this has had little practical impact on his business. “The costs have gone up, but we’re also getting more for our beef. His concerns relate to the supply of goods, especially drugs, from Britain and he feels the North is being ‘sacrificed’ because of Brexit.
“The EU and the Southerners seem to have decided that Northern Ireland is the price Britain has to pay for leaving the EU,” McKane said.
However, O’Hanlon disagrees, saying the protocol is “a lot of hype for nothing” and that the whole situation “hasn’t changed much” for him.
James Killen prefers to concentrate on something else. Smiling broadly as he washes and dries his cattle, he proclaims that politics and Covid-19 are “the farthest things” on his mind.
“Everyone here is your brother or your friend.”