Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

Getting the onions and turnips ready for the Trim judges

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

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.

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There is some marvellous stuff to be discovered among the Trim archives, including a report from the 1950s, which contained the following nugget of information: "In the needlework section, three-quarters of the entries came from unmarried ladies, and in the bread and cakes section, one-third of the entrants were also unmarried."

Now why did we need to know this? Moving on in years, a sad reflection on how small-scale production was declining is evident from the closure of the pig classes in the late 1960s.

But times are continually changing and the popularity of part-time farming is on the increase again. Thousands of people who do not earn their living directly from the land now keep pigs, chickens and goats, and grow their own vegetables, either in back gardens or in allotments. Old breeds of fowl and livestock are again popular and there is huge interest in the quality of food, how it is grown and where it comes from. All of this bodes well for our agricultural shows and their continuing popularity.

This year, I am looking forward to entering again and am very hopeful of success with my onions, turnips and mixed herbs. Readers of this column might recall how my entry of eggs for a previous show were pilfered by a family member leaving me short two of the required half dozen and, as my hens, like our politicians, seem to be taking a lengthy mid-summer break, I will have to pass on that rosette-winning opportunity. I will, however, have Flann my lurcher strutting his stuff in the "dog I would most like to bring home" class -- if I can persuade him to take his eyes off the chickens and other edible attractions. It promises to be an interesting and eventful day.

The Trim Show will be held on September 4 and entries close on August 19. Entry forms can be found on the website or from the secretary, Ethel Lydon, Kiltale, Co Meath, by calling 086 735 5557.

Meanwhile, the Royal Meath Show committee is holding a raffle to raise money for the show, Meath MS and Friends of St Joseph's in Trim. The first prize is a Massey Ferguson 135. There is €500 on offer for second, while third prize is two nights in The Knightsbrook Hotel. Tickets are €5 each or five for €20. Tickets can be bought on the day of the show or from the secretary.

Also, a fundraiser card game is being held on the same night as the show, and it has a prize fund of €1,000.

Indo Farming