A connection with the heart of the country

Something for everyone from toddlers to OAPs

Crowds enjoying day two of the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, near Stradbally, Co Laois Pic: Mark Condren.
Crowds enjoying day two of the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, near Stradbally, Co Laois Pic: Mark Condren.
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Last Tuesday morning, I was wondering what I was going to write about this week. What else could it be about except the Ploughing? But, given the vast coverage it has already garnered, what is there left to say?.

First off, can I say a heartfelt thanks to the many people who came to visit us the on the Irish Independent stand and for the feedback on this column. Not everybody agrees with everything I write but, as someone said to me, I wouldn't be doing my job if they did.

To my mind, the mood among farmers was at best uneasy. Large capital investment - even in the dairy sector - looks to have slowed, but there seems to have been plenty of activity in terms of smaller-scale innovations and technologies. For people working in this area, the Ploughing was a great shop window and also a valuable opportunity to keep tabs on the opposition.

Landing in the gate on the Tuesday morning, I happened upon the Aldi stand where comedian Jon Kenny was belting out a yarn about winning the Junior B County Hurling Final and how, on top of a trip to Spain, the team were getting some sponsorship from Aldi. So what was the form of the sponsorship? Maybe a few fillet steaks? Not a bit of it. Instead, it was 29 pairs of wellies which, as you can imagine, the team ended up being hilariously welded into by the time the plane landed in Spain.

Decked in thousands of living flowers, the Aldi stand apparently cost a substantial six figure sum to erect and was so busy that they insisted on a one-way system to operate it. Inside, it was laid out like an old fashioned village street which pressed all the right emotional buttons with consumers.

Next to the supermarket area was the Ken Black toy stand, one of many with model farm machinery. Ken first came to the Ploughing many moons ago selling a few bits out of the back of an Ifor Williams cattle trailer. Such was the scrum on the ramp that the box reared up.

Now he is Ireland's best known toy man. The Black family live in Abbeyleix and the Ploughing means all hands on deck. Wife Frances, an established artist in her own right, got a quick lesson in machinery identification from one customer. "Listen lady, if it's New Holland you're asked for, it's blue; if it's a Massey its red; if it's a Claas or John Deere, its green."

By mid-morning, the main track ways were like 10-lane, snail-paced motorways and you took your life in your hands to try and cross anywhere other than a major, gridlocked, intersection.

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As we made our way through the catering area, the array of fast foods drove the taste buds wild and the calorie counters into overdrive.

Suddenly we were spattered with something sticky. As I rather grouchily wiped myself off from what we determined was Fanta, what could I do only laugh when Sarah pointed out "at least it wasn't a sneeze".

Further on I spotted a Blue-tooth hat, a very cute One-In-A-Minion t-shirt and a red, retro PVC suit (sure to be a bit hit with the girls in the parlour).

But the Ploughing is all about people and there were record numbers over the three days.

Most of us will never grace the social and personal pages of a magazine . Instead, the Ploughing was about hardworking, decent people intent on enjoying a great once-a-year occasion. When it's all over, there is a sense of satisfaction, as everyone scatters back to whatever corner of the country they came from.


At one point, I noticed a toddler on his daddy's shoulders who, perhaps mesmerised by the unrelenting sea of faces, had leaned back and was ogling the blimps hovering overhead like giant bees.

Later in the day there was a somewhat older girl on her dad's shoulders. At first she was slumped forward resting her cheek on his bald head. Then, she seemed to be revived and, whether in love or gratitude, began to massage his temples.

This time last year, a man named Willie Long, originally from Tournafulla Co. Limerick, who emigrated to Canada in 1953 was back in Ireland for a funeral when he saw all the hoopla about the Ploughing and some publicity about our book, A Year on our Farm, which had just come out.

That is something I would like to go to, Willie thought to himself. Feeling a connection to me as we are both from west Limerick, when he returned to Toronto his daughter Wilma ordered our book.

She contacted me a few weeks back to say they were going to be at the Ploughing and her dad would like to meet up. We duly did and, whether it was a shared love of the land or sense of home, I found it a most uplifting encounter.

Then there was the married man from Galway, who had breached the 60-year-mark, looking closer to Austin Powers than George Clooney in physique, telling stories about how he was chatting up young girls everywhere he went, much to the mortification of his far quieter travelling companion.

Was he making a fool out of himself?

When I told Robin this story, his response was "not at all", adding that the ability to laugh at yourself is the ultimate sign of maturity.

Lucky for him that's how he sees it because he soon got a chance to show his own maturity.

When Robin handed in his full-price ticket on the Tuesday, it was somehow swopped for an OAP/Student wristband. When Sarah realised this, she spent the day slagging him that they thought he was an OAP.

The following morning, he somehow ended with another OAP/Student band. Robin passed some comment about how this was now two days in a row but maybe they thought he was a student.

To a murmur of laughter from the rest of good natured crowd queuing to get in, a lady among them piped up "that might be a harder one for you to pull off".

Indo Farming

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