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Why the NI Countrysports Fair is a must for country music, good food and family entertainment


FAMILIES and countrysports enthusiasts are in for a real treat as the sights, sounds and tastes that Northern Ireland has to offer are fused together in the stunning surroundings of Scarvagh House for the NI Countrysports Fair on May 25 and 26.

The annual celebration of all things country attracts around 25,000 visitors each year to the sprawling 340 acre estate in Co Armagh.

Yet again this year, the event has something for all ages and interests from World War II re-enactments to beehive demonstrations and of course there'll be a mouth-watering fayre from the best of Northern Ireland's homegrown food and drink producers.

Run by the NI Heritage and Rural Life Society which is headed by Derek and Gillian Lutton, of Foymore Lodge, the event is a true celebration of all things country and attracts visitors and exhibitors from across the UK and Ireland to sample the best of rural Northern Ireland.

A packed programme of activities will take place throughout the weekend with firm foodie favourites returning this year again. New to the food marquee this year is the family-run Ballylisk Dairies and Symphonia Gin while some of the biggest and best names in folk music and dancing will take to the stage across the two days.

Portaferry-based craftsman, Clive Lyttle, will be demonstrating the ancient arts of dry stone walling and wood turning, alongside Lisanfiffy Blacksmith's Danna Herron. The Wartime Living History Association, a group of enthusiasts from across Northern Ireland, will transform the Scarvagh House grounds into the battlefields of Europe, bringing the sights, sounds and smells of the American and German war camps to life as a mark of respect to all soldiers who fought during the Second World War.

Co Armagh producer Loughgall Honey will be adding a real buzz with beehive demonstrations, while for the four-legged members of the family, there's plenty on offer from the 'Scruffs' Pet Show to equestrian performances and Dog Agility Challenges.

A fantastic range of animal treats, feed suppliers and canine accessories can also be purchased during the weekend, while the traders section of the fair will have everything from handmade jewellery and clothing, to sweets, toys and beauty products.

Live Kitchen Theatre

Mixing the finest, sustainably sourced Northern Irish ingredients with global influences from as far away as Australia, the Live Kitchen Theatre offers visitors the perfect opportunity to not only watch chefs cook live on stage but to taste a mouth-watering menu of dishes showcasing the best in flavours from the Food Heartland. 

The team of chefs - which includes the Bachus Group's executive chef Dean Coppard, Mervyn Steenson of Groucho's Bar in Richhill, Gary Scott who heads up the Linen Hill Deli in Banbridge and Max Buller of the Merchant Bar in Newry - have their own unique style and will bring the Theatre Kitchen to life with interactive demonstrations which will give a glimpse into skills and techniques to enhance your culinary experience.

You'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to food and drink so try and buy from one of the biggest selections of sweets, jams, chutneys and cheeses to cakes, traybakes, salads and seafood to be seen at an event of this type.

Keepin' Er Country

Heading up the bill on the entertainment programme this year is former BBC Radio Ulster 'Kist O Words' presenter Willie Drennan who brings his inimitable mix of music, storytelling and poetry to the Countrysports Fair with his unmissable Folkabilly Music. There'll be traditional music and dancing with a difference from the Hounds of Ulster which will sure get the crowds dancing over the weekend.

Tribute acts featuring the biggest names in American country music will add a touch of the trans-Atlantic to the fair while the organisers have confirmed Paul Kelly who will have people of all ages on their feet throughout the two days.

Flight of Fancy

In a sure sign of its growing popularity year-on-year, the NI Countrysports Fair attracts exhibitors from all over Ireland and the UK featuring everything an outdoor enthusiast could ever need whether that's clothing or equipment, fishing tackle and hunting lights or dog training equipment.

Officials from prestigious countrysports organisations including the British Association for Shooting and Conversation, Countrysports Ireland and Countryside Alliance Ireland, as well as SACS Not for Profit Shooting, will also be in attendance at the event.

There'll also be displays from SMJ Falconry from Oxenhope in West Yorkshire in the main arena, featuring demonstrations by majestic birds of prey, while Silverstream Sheepdogs and Cossack Display performer Sergiy Khimich are both ready and waiting to thrill the onlookers with displays of agility and prowess.

Showcasing the Story of Northern Ireland

Speaking at the launch, Derek Lutton said: "This event has been running since 1996, and, year on year, it has proved to be a huge pull for attracting tourists to the area. We collaborate with a lot of local food and drink establishments and accommodation providers to ensure our travelling visitors stay locally which is fantastic for local businesses in this area.

"As always, we will be showcasing the story of our land and highlighting our connection with our heritage through food and drink which will be key for our local producers. There'll be cookery demonstrations by some of our much loved chefs, lots of countrysports fashions and accessories for sale and there'll be live music with bars so the craic will be great. 

"We will have a display of birds of prey, equestrian events, a World War Two re-enactment, helicopter rides, traditional country crafts, shooting, fishing and lurcher and terrier competitions. There'll be gun dogs and much more."

 "The Countrysports Fair is very much a countrysports event but it's also very family orientated which is demonstrated by the increase in visitor numbers of families attending from across Northern Ireland, the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. 

"Everyone comes to enjoy this spectacular location, taste the flavours of our land, enjoy the craic with the locals while enjoying the wide range of events which takes place over the two days."

Children under 16 go free and an adult ticket is £12. 

NI Countrysports Fairs is supported by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council as well as DAERA NI Regional Food Programme and Tourism NI.

You can keep up to date with ticket information on the NI Countrysports Fairs website www.countrysportsfairs.com or at facebook.com/countrysportsfairs where details about exhibitors, artists and activities can be found.

NI Countrysports Fairs is supported by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council as well as DAERA NI Regional Food Programme.

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