Ballyeaston Vintage Tractor Club celebrates 50th birthday

It’s a ‘vintage year’ for Ballyeaston Vintage Tractor Club as they celebrate their half century – 50 years after their formation back in 1974.

The Club’s origins were in a sub-committee set up to organise the 2nd Ballyeaston Presbyterian Church Country Fair. As one of the club’s founding fathers Howard Taggart explained: “We owe a big debt to Rev Robin Boyd, minister of 2nd Ballyeaston, for without him, there might never have been a Ballyeaston Vintage Tractor Club.

“At the time, many annual events were cancelled, such as the Ballyclare May Fair, due to the threat of terrorism. It was felt that there was a great need for some form of leisure activity in which families could join. This and the need to raise funds for work on church property, the Session and Committee decided to do something about it. Rev Boyd suggested a ‘Country Fete’; on the lines of one he had seen when he was minister in County Armagh.

“The ‘Fete’ became Second Ballyeaston Country Fair and the first one, held in 1972 was an enormous success.”

It was perhaps the largest event ever held in Ballyeaston Village. There were stalls of all descriptions, local bands, a rifle range, East Antrim Hounds, Pony Rides, Fancy Dress, where one particular entrant was ‘sponger’, a reference to Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s comment at the time.

The event was opened by Mayor Sid Cameron.

The evening came to a close, with a dance in the Brann Hall; music provided by Sam Beggs.

Such was the success of the event, it was decided to do it all again in 1973, with visitors coming from as far away as Donegal. A few tractors appeared from Hugh McBroom, Ray Hume, Leslie Foster and Geoffrey McKay. This sowed the seeds for numerous others to exhibit their cherished vehicles.

In the winter of 1973, The Taggart Brothers, Hugh, Len and Howard suggested forming a Tractor Club, with permission granted to use church premises. The inaugural meeting was held on February 1974, with the Taggart Brothers present, alongside Ray Hume, Tom McCartney and George Glass.

The office bearers elected at that meeting were President, Hugh Craig; Chairman, Ray Hume; Secretary, Davy Meharg and Treasurer Tom McCartney.

From those humble beginnings, the Vintage Tractor Club flourished over the years and when the Country Fairs came to an end in 1977, the obvious replacement was the Vintage Tractor Club’s Annual Gathering which was initially held on the land of the Taggart Family, Rectory Road, Cogry, before moving to Six Mile Water Park, Ballyclare (courtesy of Newtownabbey Borough Council) in 1996. Unfortunately, while on Council property, the Club were unable to charge a tariff, although they overcame this by inviting the Riding for the Disabled (East Antrim Branch) to collect, and they benefited handsomely from the public’s generosity.

After Six Mile Water Park, the Club moved for a few years to Shore Road, Glynn, hosted by the McKee Family, before going back to Ballyeaston.

For the last two years, they have returned to Ballyclare and are now part of the Ballyclare May Fair festivities, holding a prominent position in the car park, adjacent to the Town Hall, on the first Saturday of the annual Fair.

Over the years, Ballyeaston Vintage Tractor Club have organised many trips for members and friends. The first trip, to Dumfries, was such a success; it was repeated annually for a number of years.

Mr Hugh Taggart then took over the mantle of Tour Organiser and arranged trips of several days duration to the likes of the Lake District, Cumbria, Wales and Scotland, incorporating sightseeing and attending Vintage Gatherings. It was very much the highlight of the vintage year.

The Club held their first ever Ploughing Match, on the lands of Mrs McClelland, Ballyeaston in 1975. The Ploughing Matches were a great success and continued for many years, only ceasing because of the Covid Pandemic.

As Howard continued: “One of our main aims was always to try and help out local charities, and we have raised thousands over the years. Some of the first cheques we handed over were to Dr Herbie Baird for the Ballyclare Accident Unit and then to Miss Morag Lynas, Head Teacher of Larne Special Care School.”

One of the main sources for raising money for charity was the Annual Concert, held in the Brann Memorial Hall.

Ballyeaston members, in conjunction with Rev Purvis Campbell, were also instrumental in organising the first ‘Ploughman’s Service’ in the Church. This is now known as the ‘Service for the Farming Community’.

As Howard concluded: “You’d wonder just where those years went. In the 50 years since our formation, we have been an important part of the community, and with younger members joining, we were confident that we will continue for many more years to come.”

Next up for Ballyeaston Vintage Tractor Club is their Annual Tractor Run to be held on Saturday 13th July. Registration is at the Jim Baker Stadium, Parkgate BT39 0DX from 14.45, with tractors leaving at 16.00 sharp. All proceeds to Macmillan Cancer Support. The Club say there is a ‘fantastic route planned’.

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