All roads lead to Laois as farming fraternity gathers for 'Ploughing'
The plough tracks are laid and the marquees are standing to attention in preparation for the biggest event in the farming calendar.
For the third year in a row, the National Ploughing Championships (the 84th) will return to a special 800-acre site in Ratheniska, Co Laois.
But for visitors looking to experience the best of rural life, the weather will bring a mixed bag of showers and sunny spells.
Tomorrow will see the best of the sunshine, with changeable conditions set to sweep across the county during the remaining two days.
"Tuesday will definitely be the driest day and visitors should enjoy it while it lasts," said weather forecaster Joanna Donnelly.
"There'll be passing showers on Wednesday, followed by even heavier rain on Thursday."
This year's event will be officially launched by President Michael D Higgins at noon tomorrow, signalling three days of packed-out action.
The scale of this nationwide get-together is a far cry from the first championships, which took place in Athy in 1931, costing nine pounds, three shillings and five pence to run.
And Anna May McHugh, the managing director, says this year's ploughfest is bigger than ever.
Last year, the championship generated an estimated €39m in sales for Irish businesses.
Industry experts predict that visitor numbers could top 300,000 this year because of a significant increase in the number of stands, as well as improving consumer sentiment generally in the economy.
In addition to the standard ploughing, cattle and sheep exhibitions and a vast range of machinery displays, there is a packed programme of non-farming events.
The latest fashions will be on display, with shows three times a day and special prizes for the 'most appropriately dressed' lady and gent.
There will be demonstrations from celebrity chefs, brown bread-baking competitions (now including a junior action with a range of prizes), and a range of craft demonstrations providing special attractions for thousands of visitors.
Singers and musicians will provide the mood music, with performances on the bandstand all day.
In total, 83 small enterprises, representing every county in Ireland, will set up shop in the 'Local Enterprise Village', where they will ply their wares, with a conservative estimate of €36.5m of business to be done.
Chair of the network of local enterprise offices, Kieran Comerford, said the Village gives small business owners a real opportunity to boost sales and break into new markets.
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton said Ireland's agri-food sector is performing "very strongly" and that as a result small businesses are benefiting, with "huge opportunities" for growth and job creation.
Meanwhile, gardaí urge visitors not to arrive until 11am, when queues will have eased.
For those travelling to the championships by car, free parking is provided.
Traffic travelling from Kilkenny and the southeast along the N78 will park in the designated yellow car park or the designated grey car park.
Those travelling from Carlow will park in the designated yellow car parks, while those arriving from the west on the N80 will park in the designated green car park.
Visitors travelling northbound on the M7 will park in the designated brown car-parks on the left side of the R426.
Those driving southbound on the M7 will exit at Junction 15, Cappakeel, Co Laois, and proceed left on to the L3930, before parking in the designated purple car parks on the right of the R427.
And those travelling northbound from Cork/Munster will park in the designated blue car parks on the left and right of R427, just beside the event grounds in Rathineska.
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