The Royal Ulster Agricultural Society is proud to have a strong and long-standing relationship with the Royal Family and honoured to have their continued support in all its work.
The Society’s Patron is HRH Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, and they have been lucky to host numerous royal visitors to the Show throughout the years. Notably, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited in 2002 with Prince Philip as part of her Golden Jubilee Tour.
Her Majesty visited the Show on Wednesday 15th May and was greeted on arrival by Billy Yarr, then Chief Executive of the Society and Margaret Collinson, RUAS President at the time. Both have wonderful memories of this special day. Billy Yarr was directly involved in the planning of the visit, he said: ‘‘I had been made aware of that visit many months prior, having been told of it in the strictest confidence and was not allowed to tell anyone, not even my President. During those months, I spent many hours with Palace officials drawing up arrangements for the visit which was to last for up to an hour and a half.
It was eventually agreed that the President and I should escort her Majesty on a one hour tour of the Show, leaving the Members Rooms in an anticlockwise direction. Prince Philip on the other hand was to tour in a clockwise direction, escorted by the Deputy President and the Chairman of the Finance Committee. The routes had to be designed so that there would be no meeting of the two groups during the tours and that Prince Philip would return to the Members Rooms at least one minute before the Queen arrived back.
As the days of the Show drew closer, it was obvious to most people that something important was to happen, but no one guessed what, and I certainly didn't tell them.
It was only when the official cars drew up in front of the King’s Hall that the reality was revealed.
The visit was a stunning success with Her Majesty in wonderful form and very interested in talking to the many exhibitors she met on her tour. In the Horse Section she showed particular interest in a certain brood mare being shown. I was asked to let her officials know the contact details of the exhibitor concerned. What came of that, I never found out.
The visit concluded back in the Members Room after being introduced to each member of staff, that really made their day. The Queen and Prince Philip really enjoyed their visit to "our" Balmoral, those thoughts being expressed in a lovely letter which the President received the day following the tour.’’
Margaret Collinson was RUAS President at the time of the Queen’s visit and had the pleasure of escorting the Queen around the showgrounds. She remembers the day fondly: ‘‘It was a wonderful experience, I particularly recall when we stepped out onto the cattle ring and the Aberdeen Angus were being judged and John Henderson from Strabane had just won the Championship. It was a most significant moment, as the Queen’s Mother had a very famous herd of Aberdeen Angus at the Castle of Mey, so she was of course very interested and asked him about his herd. It was lovely and felt very significant that her first introduction to our livestock was of the Angus breed.
It was clear that touring the Show and having the opportunity to enjoy our showcase of agriculture and rural life was a most pleasant experience for Her Majesty, as of course she had a genuine interest in it.
I remember feeling a little nervous as well as extremely excited ahead of the visit, but the Queen was lovely and made us feel so at ease. It truly felt like taking a walk of the showgrounds with an old friend.
I was very proud to present Her Majesty with a rose bush bred by Dicksons of Hallmark in recognition of the Golden Jubilee. Appropriately it was named "Her Majesty" and later was planted in the rose garden at Hillsborough Castle.’’
Rhonda Geary, Operations Director with the Society was one of the members of staff working in the office on the day of the Queen’s visit to the Show, she recalls the excitement and anticipation felt that morning: ‘‘I remember the buzz and excitement throughout the office that morning as we all learnt of the visit.
At that time our offices were situated at the front of the King’s Hall and when the Queen was arriving the excitement was palpable as we all stood at the door trying our best to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty.
I also remember a lot of action on site in the days before and morning of the visit, we had a sense of something important happening, there were sniffer dogs in the office and a lot of commotion, it all felt extremely exciting to be a part of.’
Current RUAS President Christine Adams paid tribute to the Queen from the Society, its Council and members, she said: ‘‘On behalf of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, I express our sorrow on the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Society wishes to extend our deep and heartfelt sympathies to the entire Royal Family at this sad time.
The Queen championed so much that our Society works to promote, she was passionate about agriculture, the outdoors and rural life. Her Majesty was an inspiration to everyone.’’
Margaret Collinson and Billy Yarr escort HM the Queen around the showgrounds.