Getting the onions and turnips ready for the Trim judges
It's show time again and, as autumn approaches, all over Ireland cattle and sheep are being groomed, horses and ponies schooled, vegetables carefully tended -- and all for that big day when we bring out the best of our produce to compete with friends and neighbours.
Agricultural shows have a long and honourable history and hold a special place in the hearts of those of us who live off the land. You don't have to be a farmer to keep chickens or grow vegetables and flowers, but local shows date back to a time when almost everyone relied directly on a good harvest to see them through the winter.
We all love to win a rosette, whether it's for a cabbage or a champion bull, and this competitive spirit goes back to the first century AD when Queen Maeve of Connacht thought her bull was better than that of Daire Mac Fiachna of Ulster. That eventually led to war and, likewise, the rivalry in the flower and vegetable tent can often give rise to some heated debate.
My local show, held each year in Trim, Co Meath, in the grounds adjoining King John's Castle, dates back to 1929 and the archives give us a fascinating insight into the evolution of agriculture through the years. Early records include classes for iron gates and wheelbarrows and tell how livestock entries were badly hit during the Economic War. There was also a class for a useful item made from flour bags, which just proves how recycling was a necessity in those days.
A further indication of the competitive instincts aroused when our produce is judged is contained in a news report of the time, which stated that: "The catalogue was not released for sale until the judging was finished as groundless allegations had been made on previous occasions that the judges had taken advantage of having sight of the names of entrants. Needless to say, the committee, and all reasonable people as well, were satisfied there was not a shadow of a basis for such an idea."
Of course not. Who could possibly think that a judge could be influenced to favour friends or relations? Another class from the 1930s was for tobacco plants. I remember my father speaking of how tobacco was virtually unobtainable then and people often resorted to smoking some foul and acrid mixes including locally grown weed.
Trim Show in the 1930s even had a section for "cottagers and labourers" included in the fruit and vegetable classes. I suppose the modern equivalent is the popular class for allotment holders.