By Steven Moore
The RUAS centenary show of 1967 was particularly memorable for nine-year-old Hugh Suffern of Crumlin, whose struggles to hold his father’s prize-winning Ayrshire didn’t escape the notice of Royal visitor the Duke of Edinburgh.
“Is it under control?” asked the Duke, receiving the reply of “Yes, sir,” most likely delivered by a hopeful rather than certain Hugh.
The Duke, with a reputation for diverting from the normally politically correct Royal patter – he asked at the Women’s Institute stand if a bottle of blackberry wine was actually poteen – was one of three Royal visitors that year to mark the 100th show, with Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowdon also touring the Balmoral grounds.
It had taken to 1967 to reach a centenary of shows due primarily to the interruption caused by the two world wars, with no shows between 1914-16 as Balmoral was being used as a military barracks and again from 1940-47 when the Kings’s Hall, opened in 1934, was a wartime engineering works.
The show, always reliant on good weather to ensure success, was let down by the elements in its centenary year, causing disappointment and disruption.
FarmWeek reported: “Inclement weather caused cancellation of all the jumping events at the show for the first time in the history of the RUAS.
“And the overall picture of ‘the biggest and best’ Royal Ulster was marred by complaints about the inadequacy of the stabling accommodation and the poor condition of some of the stables.
“Cancellation of the jumping events was a bitter blow to the RUAS which had spent £10,000 on drainage since the 1966 show but found, following heavy rain before the show and intermittent showers during it that the ground was too dangerous to permit the programme to be carried out.
“The centenary pageant which was to have been the highlight of the show was also affected by the weather and had to be presented in modified form.”
The Show Jumping Association of Ireland was so incensed that it lodged a protest with the RUAS about conditions generally while some horse owners, many of whom had travelled long distances to get to Balmoral, muttered about never returning.
However, the bad weather and the cancellation of the show jumping apart, the show had undoubtedly been a success, reckoned FarmWeek.
“Some hundreds of show jumping enthusiasts stayed away after the announcement that the programme had been abandoned but this was more than made up for by the many spectators who attended to see the visiting members of the Royal family,” it reported.
“There was something for everyone in the showgrounds with the women folk jam-packing the fashion show and the livestock competitions and trade stands attracting big galleries of male spectators.
“By Friday, the farmers and their families had departed and Saturday was ‘townies day’ at the showground.”
It quoted an unnamed RUAS official who announced: “Considering the unsatisfactory weather, the centenary show went off exceptionally well.”
A further show was lost in 2001 due to the Foot and Mouth outbreak, resulting in 2018 being the 150th event and the sixth held at Balmoral Park, near Lisburn, following its departure from the Belfast showgrounds after the 2012 show.