Questions raised over future of Ballyclare May Fair

Michelle McGuigan and Margaret Irwin, who have both resigned from the Ballyclare May Fair working group. INNT 11-800CON
Michelle McGuigan and Margaret Irwin, who have both resigned from the Ballyclare May Fair working group. INNT 11-800CON

Concerns have been raised about the future staging of the May Fair in Ballyclare following the implementation of a new format by the council.

The annual event, which receives council funding, has been hit with a number of restrictions over recent years, with this year’s event facing further alterations - a move that has sparked several volunteers to quit their posts on the organising group.

Some have raised concerns that the changes could spell the end for the May Fair - a suggestion the council has denied.

This year’s fair, due to run from May 24 - 28, will see the amusements set up in the Sixmile Leisure Centre car park and the Harrier Way car park. The move to relocate the amusements away from The Square is a break from tradition which has angered some within the town.

A marquee is set to be built in The Square car park, which will hold food-related events and entertainment. Some of the stalls are to be in The Square car park, with the remainder situated alongside the amusements.

One of the traditional aspects of the fair saw Main Street being converted into a horse trading fair on May Fair Tuesday. But last year, due to health and safety reasons, the horse fair was relocated to the council yard at the junction of Avondale Drive and Main Street. This will be the location for the horse fair again this year.

May Fair events used to run over a week-long period. However, over the last two years the fair has been reduced to four days.

On Monday, March 7, a meeting of the May Fair Working Group was held at Mossley Mill, during which members were informed about the amended format for 2016.

Michelle McGuigan, who was chairperson of the working group, has since resigned her position and is undecided as to whether she will remain on the main May Fair committee.

Margaret Irwin and Marianne Blair have also resigned from the working group.

Speaking to the Times, Michelle said: “It is very disappointing that the decision to place the amusements out of the way in the Harrier Way car park was taken without the knowledge of the working group. It feels that we have put so much into the successful running of the event over the years, but now our views don’t seem to matter anymore. I don’t know if there is a future for the fair now. It is a peaceful, family festival and I would encourage as many people to come and support it, as this may be it.”

Despite claims that there are now serious question marks over the future of the annual event, Ballyclare Cllr Vera McWilliam has stressed that the fair will continue.

The UUP representative said: “We are not doing away with the fair; no one has even mentioned doing away with it. The fair is taking place, but just in a different format. I hope people will come along and enjoy it.”

Cllr Tim Girvan also encouraged people to come and support the fair this year.

The DUP representative said: “The May Fair has been a part of Ballyclare’s history for a very long time. I would encourage people to come out and get behind it as well as taking some ownership of it too. It is not the council who run the fair for the council, they run it for the people and the people have to get behind it and support it and feed into it. The fair needs to go back to the people, for them to actually put their ideas into it, rather than the council pushing their own agenda onto it.”

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has also given an assurance that it has “no plans to do away with the May Fair.”

A spokesperson said: “At the council meeting on Monday, February 29, it was agreed to make a number of changes to the Ballyclare May Fair to improve the experience for visitors and to make access easier for both the public and those travelling to and through the town that day. By relocating the amusements from Market Square car park to Harrier Way car park, Market Square can be opened up for concerts, performances by local musicians and dance groups. This will also allow for space for a marquee that can accommodate a range of family and community focused activities and entertainment. The Council believes that centralising all May Fair activities in the vicinity of The Square will help create a more focused and atmospheric event for everyone to enjoy and get the best out of the day. All of the activities traditionally associated with the Ballyclare May Fair will continue to take place this year.”