Comment: Skies foretell of Brexit storms ahead - but there's no dampening of spirits

Almost 300,000 people flock to the Ploughing Championships, an event that has grown to be the largest agricultural show in Europe. Picture: PA
Almost 300,000 people flock to the Ploughing Championships, an event that has grown to be the largest agricultural show in Europe. Picture: PA
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Despite rubbish broadband, the threat of Brexit and recent flooding, rural Ireland has showed itself once again to be incredibly resilient.

So, when the heavens opened over Tullamore on the second day of the Ploughing this year, and there was some whispered talk that maybe the event would be called off midway, it was this resilience that came into play at the largest 'pop-up' festival in Ireland.

The electricity went from numerous stands while flood water seeped into others, and many people who'd arrived to the rural phenomenon that is the National Ploughing Championships took it as a sign from the gods to go home, damp but happy.

The Ploughing is a funny phenomenon. It's the biggest event in the farming calendar, both for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit it, and commercially. Politicians cannot afford to miss it, regardless of whether there is an election on the horizon, and commercial companies have embraced it in recent years with bigger and brasher stands doling out free samples of everything from cheese to religious medals.

On top of that, almost 300,000 people flock to this event that has grown to be the largest agricultural show in Europe.

The event has become so big in recent years that it now makes logistical sense to keep it on the one site for at least one year and the current assumption is that it will remain on the Tullamore site for three years.

Yet few people outside those living in rural Ireland have any real idea what it is. In fact, most people who go to the Ploughing don't ever get to see any of the actual ploughing, where farmers compete to plough the best drill in Irish soil.

Visitors are, instead, all consumed with the 'pop-up' town that grows on the site in the preceding weeks, home to 1,700 exhibitors.

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And despite the flooding on the second day, it didn't deter a massive crowd visiting on Thursday as clearly no amount of Met Éireann warnings and flooding footage was going to prevent the people of rural Ireland enjoying themselves on a day out they'd planned for weeks in advance.

So, under the looming threat to Irish farming from Brexit, there is no doubt that the three-event allows farmers and rural Ireland an opportunity to enjoy themselves and forget about all the negatives that hang over them.

Any visitor can ask the price of the shiny machinery on show and know they can't afford a €60,000 mini tractor, but it's nice to dream - while knowing you can still afford a few new hurleys for the kids.

They will go home happy with a bag stuffed full of leaflets for agricultural machinery, political parties, and Cúl Heroes trading cards.

Even our new Dublin-born and bred Taoiseach thought it worthwhile to get his wellies muddy for a few hours while he mingled with the thousands of rural Ireland dwellers. It has been claimed that he may not fully understand the intricacies of the Common Agricultural Policy, on which rural Ireland is so dependent.

But at least he showed he's prepared to come and let the people remind him how important the Ireland outside the M50 really is.

Because it is hugely important. Agriculture was the shining light during the recession, keeping the country afloat and now that it's battling with poor prices, the people who live in rural Ireland are prepared to wade through flood waters and get on with life.

But while the Ploughing brings €35m into the local area, it too needs to keep a check on itself. When a local taxi driver is looking for €240 to make a 24km run to the site three times, you know things are getting a little crazy. So, before it prices itself out of business, the Ploughing needs to ensure that it remains sustainable as a family festival, not just an event for big farmers and even bigger businesses.

For now, though, farming families can put on their wellies for the more mundane chores - and unwind after a whirlwind few days.

Irish Independent

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