Farming, fine weather and welly throwing draw in record crowds
Sports stars among the 71,000 punters out for agriculture's top event, writes Aideen Sheehan
AGRICULTURE is the star of the Irish economy in tough economic times, President Mary McAleese said yesterday.
Farming had always been "the heartland and the soul of Ireland", now it is "the economic backbone as well", she told a crowd of 71,000 attending the opening day of the Ploughing Championships in Athy, Co Kildare.
New figures show record levels of Irish food exports this year and more students entering Teagasc farming courses than ever before.
Rural Ireland was now the first place to look for leadership and star quality, and agrifood was heading an export-led recovery, Mrs McAleese said.
"It's an absolutely remarkable story that a people of four million are now feeding more than 30 million people and will very shortly be feeding more than 50 million people in the world, so congratulate yourselves," she said.
Fine weather and firm footing helped the 80th year of the Ploughing Championships get off to a flying start.
Organisers put the unprecedented first-day crowd -- 5,000 more than last year's record -- down to many people travelling before showers and more unsettled conditions are expected to move in today.
The biggest ever opening-day crowd resulted in one-hour tailbacks to get onto the site for traffic, from the east in particular.