How Tullamore Show has now become a national treasure
It's a long way from its humble origins on a 25-acre site on Collins's Lane at the edge of Tullamore, but today that idea of just holding an annual agricultural show in the Offaly town back in the 1990's has become a national treasure.
Over 60,000 people will flock to Tullamore next Sunday for the annual National Livestock show, which is up there with the Ploughing championships as the one of the highlights of the show season.
The scale of the Tullamore Show is incredible.
One day - 60,000 visitors, 20,000 on-site meals, 1,000 classes to be judged by 100 judges (foreign and domestic) 670 trade stands (up 20pc on 2013), 20,000 free car parking spaces, 600 volunteers keeping the show on the road and, of course, the crème de la crème of livestock competitions - the AIB National Livestock Gold Medals.
Put another way the programme for the Tullamore first show in 1991 ran to 20 black and white pages, while the programme for next Sunday's show runs to a packed and glossy 350 pages.
It all began at a ' meeting one night' back in the 1990s when a number of local farmers were having a conversation about Tullamore - a place in the heart of the heart of the country - hadn't had an agricultural show since the days of Queen Victoria.
How could places like Oldcastle and Ballymahon manage to stage annual agricultural shows while Tullamore, for all its agricultural hinterland, couldn't manage to peg a tent, the show's public relations officer, Christy Maye, remembers today?
"At the meeting were a lot of 'can do' people like Tom Maher - now retired from Teagasc but still working fulltime with the Tullamore Show and the late Jack Cleary of Glenisk fame and Sean Healion a local farmer and contractor and collectively they decided to give the idea it a go.
The 'can do' group "immediately toured the country's agricultural shows to research the venture and launched the first Tullamore show on that 25-acre site which the local mart set aside for them in 1991.
"About 3,000 attended the first show but we knew from the start that there was a lot of goodwill for the show locally," he recalls today.
"The following year we moved to the Charleville Estate, owned by David Hutton Bury and his family and we stayed there for a good few years'.
"Charleville was a wonderful place to hold the show and we got great help from the owners but when the two weather postponements in successive years happened seven years ago we had to look for a site which would cope with the vagaries of the Irish weather and allow us to run our show on schedule every year."
And as the show was getting bigger and bigger the search was on for a bigger site which was discovered when the show committee found the Butterfield's Estate.
By that stage Tullamore had become a 'must go' agricultural event in the Irish show calendar.
And, of course, the show has also expanded in cost terms which are now edging nearer to the million euro mark.
So will the Tullamore show expand even further?
"We will be having a meeting to plan next year's show a week after this year's show and the first thing on the agenda will be whether the show should be a two-day or three-day event rather than a one-day event. We have discussed this over the years and we still have to make a decision on the issue," Christy Maye told the Farming Independent this week.
But an indication of how the wind is blowing on this vexed question may come from next Saturday night's pre-show event which includes a 'meet and greet' gathering at the show's Meat Village where the great and good (possible emphasis on good) of the Irish Meat Producers sector will mingle with beef men which will follow an open forum event where the Minister Coveney, will take to the crease and bat away questions about his favourite topic - the future of Irish agriculture.
Minister at the crease
In a departure from the usual format an open forum and networking event will be held on Saturday evening as a curtain raiser to this year's Tullamore show.
The forum, at the Meat Village on the site, will focus on the future of Irish agriculture with an emphasis on our beef and dairy sectors and invited speakers include the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, Joe Burke of Bord Bia, IFA president Eddie Downey, Ciaran Fitzgerald from the Meat Industry Ireland and Michael Hanley of Lakelands representing the diary sector.
The Forum will be chaired by new European Parliament vice president and Fine Gael MEP, Mairead McGuinness.
The forum kicks off at 6pm on Saturday evening and will be followed by a networking event where the great and good of country's meat producers will be on hand to meet and greet industry colleagues
Balancing the balance sheet
The Tullamore Show is one of the first shows in Ireland to go online with a digital service now available for everything from admissions tickets to franchise and trade stand allocations now available at a touch of a key.
Some €50,000 was spent over the past year on the online facility for the one-day show and, according to show secretary Freda Kinneaney, the online product has been snapped up by the show's sponsors, breed competitors and the general public alike.
Financing the one-day show, which this year will cost upwards of €850,000, is no easy task though the committees manage to make it a profitable venture every year.
What profits are made are ploughed back into the show with the committee upgrading facilities from roadways on the showgrounds to the new online customer service, as needs require.
Gate receipts usually make up 40pc of the show's income, with the rest coming in equal measure from the show's sponsors, trade stands and franchise fees.
The mothers and fathers of invention
One of the features of the show from an early stage was its innovations section which allowed the bright sparks of the agri world a stage to highlight their agri-inventions and labour saving devices.
The event, which is sponsored by the Farming Independent, will introduce some 60 new innovations to the general public and they range from practical devices to make cattle and dairy cow handling easier for farmers, to on-farm labour saving devices, explains innovations public relations officer, Leslie Cox.
This year's list of entrants is nearly at record levels, she says, and many of the' would be John Fergusons' will be hoping that down the line their patents are bought in by one of the big agri-business machinery companies.
The list of this year's innovations and inventions is impressive.
Wouldn't any farmer want a new slurry safety device or an advanced farming system for handling livestock from their quad bike or an anti-backing device for a cattle crush, a concrete grooving machine perhaps or a caesarian aid and hoof paring device.
What about a mechanical vermin trap or a front loader to enable calves to be fed over gates and electric fences or an hydraulic application which fastens tapes together to cover and uncover silage
The panel of judges, come from academic and engineering backgrounds and are tuned into the latest in the agri-machinery and labour saving devices worlds.
Making its Live debut
Livestock Live - a new online livestock trading platform, already operating in Britain, will make its Irish debut at this year's show.
The idea was developed in England by Brendan Hannigan who is the son of a former vet at the show John Hannigan of Hannigan and Griffin.
The platform allows buyers and sellers of livestock, and non livestock products like straw hay and animal feed and tractors to trade their stock on www.livestock-live.com through a secure guaranteed online payment platform.
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