Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 10 December 2016

The Ploughing beats Picnic for atmosphere and smell . . .

This is the real deal - rooted in the earth and turning it over, says Kirsty Blake Knox

Published 26/09/2015 | 07:00

Kirsty Blake Knox with some working horses at the Ploughing Championships
Kirsty Blake Knox with some working horses at the Ploughing Championships
Ploughing débutante Kirsty Blake Knox
Sheltering from the rain at the 2015 National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, County Laois. Pic:Mark Condren
The huge crowds in Co Laois weren’t bothered by the rain
EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan wears an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with Sean Atkinson, CEO of broadband service Siro, at the Ploughing. Picture: Frank McGrath

"Breathe it in, girl," Noel Dunne says, gesturing towards a stubble field. "There's nothing quite like the Ploughing."

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Noel - who has been coming to the ploughing for years, and was showing me around - is right of course; there is literally nothing like it.

Where else would you find grown men curling and coiffing the fringes of bulls?

Is there any other festival in the world where mammies and grannies break a sweat during a tense brown bread making finale as a manic Marty Morrissey screams about getting the "ride of his life". Oh, please - he was talking about a rollercoaster.

Initially, I was unsure how much of the Ploughing I would "get".

I'm not a farmerette, (although I adore the name), so conversations about teat cups and crop rotation tend to go way over my head.

In fact, I didn't even realise ploughing was a sport. I thought it was just a part of everyday life - a bit like brushing your teeth, or tying shoelaces. But I was wrong - very wrong.

Arriving in Ratheniska, I was taken aback by the sheer size and scale of it.

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Stretching over 800 acres, there are never-ending stalls filled with shiny machinery. The heady scent of sausage 'sangwiches' lingers in the air, and thousands of people are milling about.

"The hardest part of the Ploughing is finding your way to the ploughing," one farmer tells me.

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan is there, gurning for the cameras, shaking hands furiously - and, no doubt, hoping everyone will forget his role in the water charges.

A pack of journalists follow him about but I mitch off to see if someone will let me drive a tractor and if there are any good-looking farmers knocking about.

Darting in and out of tents filled with livestock, I start to realise that the Ploughing is a good deal more entertaining than the last Laois-based festival I attended. (Electric Picnic, since you ask.)

This is mainly due to the fact that there are hardly any liggers, or festival posers.

No one has lashings of glitter paint on their face, and no one has decided to dress up in "hilarious" fleuro unitards, Native American headdresses, or distressingly tight hot pants. The uniform for 'Ploughapalooza' is much more practical: reliable raincoats with deep pockets, rubber wellies (not Hunters), and a reassuring amount of fleece.

Plus, the Ploughing Championships smell a lot better than EP. The loos come equipped with - wait for it - toilet paper. A luxury most festivals fail to achieve.

In one corner of a field, I meet David Pearson, who stands proudly over his prize-winning Boherard cow.

"This is Hanky Panky," he tells me. "She is my pride and joy."

Hanky Panky is the cleanest cow I have ever seen in my life, and I listen as David explains how he shampoos, blow dries and waxes his beloved Hanky Panky's hair to ensure it has plenty of va-va-voom. During the course of this conversation, I come to the sorry conclusion that this cow has a more rigorous haircare regime than I do.

Across the way, TJ Hurley is showing off his rainbow-coloured sheep. "You know what way they voted in the marriage referendum," TJ chuckles.

There's a dizzying amount of things going on: Sile Seoige is singing with the Camembert Quartet; there are fashion shows; calves are being won in raffles; people are trying to break the world record for the most cups of tea brewed in an hour (it stands at 1,848): a big wheel turns; and writer Lorna Sixsmith instructs ladies on how to be the perfect farmer's wife.

According to Sixsmith: "Her wellies will be clean, perhaps brightly coloured, but will definitely show the scars of hard work on the farm."

It's an embarrassment of riches, and I realise how naïve I was to think anyone would be hard pressed to find something of interest. I'm suddenly consumed by FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

I decide there's no better time to head up to the fields to watch reigning world champion Eamonn Tracey plough some furrows.

"It's an art form," 15-year-old ploughing judge Conor McKeown tells me. "Uniformity, straightness and weed control are all important."

McKeown was practically born in a furrow, and grew up coming to this festival. "Whether you're eight or 85, you'll like it."

It's not just the eclectic mix of events and people crowded around the grounds, it's the basic authenticity.

This isn't cookie-cutter, gingham-flecked country life. This is the real deal - rooted in the earth and turning it over.

Irish Independent