Martin gets a steer on late FF runner -- honest, no bull
MicheAl Martin (shiny green wellies) had only stepped into the Macra tent when he was folded into the embrace of a large cow. And in fairness to the Fianna Fail leader, he hugged his bovine buddy right back as the cameras clicked in delirium.
Now, it should be pointed out that this wasn't a shameless Charolais or a forward Friesian, but a person cavorting about in a furry cow suit called Daisy. As the pair grinned happily for the photographers, one observer naughtily suggested that the picture caption should read, 'Micheal Martin Unveils Fianna Fail's Presidential Candidate at Ploughing Championship'.
But Daisy's support was a moo-t point, for she had no affiliation to any political party and when it came to the presidential election, she insisted she was "on the fence".
There's something infectious about the good humour which permeates this event which makes even the properest of people do daft things, like scramble up on tractors (Martin McGuinness), throw a welly for charity (Mary Davis) or dally with Daisy (Micheal).
The truth of it is simply that it's impossible to be pompous while wearing that great sartorial leveler -- a pair of wellington boots.
For an event which is on such a huge scale -- over the three days about 200,000 visitors will negotiate their way through the 1,100 exhibits and ploughing sites laid out across 700 acres -- the Ploughing Championships exude warmth and informality. There's all sorts of stuff to see besides the ploughing competitions, such as teams of lads speed-assembling a vintage tractor, and fit fellahs scrambling up a tall pole like there was a bear after them.
Though one popular onsite activity is the Hunt for Freebies. A canny operator can ingest the bones of a decent meal by grazing the food stalls and sampling the free porridge/cheese/burgers/lemonade/ bread and a whole smorgasbord of snacks.
There are free high-visibility jackets at the 'Irish Farmers' Journal' stand, (as long as you don't mind a bit of a queue), and endless cups of free tea and coffee (if you know where to look). And there are lots of goodies to be won for the price of a raffle ticket, such as a shiny red Bale Slice. Meanwhile in the Fianna Fail tent, party members could enter a free draw for a heifer.
And even Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney (green wellies, slightly muddy) got a freebie -- while touring the food stands he was handed a small bag. "Oh great, a bag of pigs' ears -- my dogs will love that!" he enthused, happy as a pig in. . . well.
One of the presidential candidates, Mary Davis (shiny black wellies decorated with campaign stickers), was taking full advantage of the Freebie Hunt and had set up a tent for the three days, offering unlimited tea, coffee and biscuits to all comers. And Mary's Cafe was doing a roaring trade -- over the first two days her team had handed out 2,800 cups of tea, 3,100 chocolate biscuits, more than 4,000 fig rolls and gone through 80 litres of milk as thirsty farmers answered the siren call of free tay.
And when it comes to fashion competitions, the Ploughing has a far more pragmatic approach than that of similar contests at the races -- quite what a woman all gussied up in a cocktail frock, UFO-style chapeau, spindly stilettos and lace folderols has to do with betting on nags is beyond many sensible people.
And so yesterday there was a fashion competition for the Most Appropriately Dressed Man and Woman, and the two winners were attired in suitable clobber for the blustery, rainy day that was in it.
Dubliner Martin Taylor, clad in thick boots, a full-length dark green wax coat and a dark green brimmed hat, was bemused by his win. When judge Louis Copeland tapped him on the shoulder, "I thought he was joking," he said. So will he be boasting about his new status as fashion icon to his friends? "Absolutely," he declared. Though he did admit to a little help when it came to his wardrobe -- "My wife Janet shops with me," he explained.
Meanwhile, winner Roisin Kinsella from Athy, smartly dressed in a fitted brown jacket, white leggings, black hat and flat boots, was posing for the photographers. "I can't suck in my stomach," she told them. Of course she couldn't -- she is due to give birth to her first child next week.
"I just dressed for the weather," she explained, her white leggings inexplicably mud-free. "I feel fine, though I'm thrilled to win a holiday. I'll probably need it soon enough," she added, referring to her prize of a Sunway holiday.
By golly but these ploughing women are made of stern stuff.