Far from the madding crowd - tranquil fields offer welcome escape from Brexit woes and beef crisis

John and Jake (9) Stephens from Gorey, Co Wexford. Photos: Mark Condren
John and Jake (9) Stephens from Gorey, Co Wexford. Photos: Mark Condren
Double act: Coleman Cogan and his nephew Dean Hall and wife Patsy, with his horses Ned and Ted. PHOTO: MARK CONDREN
Taking a break: Ploughman James Coffey, from Roscommon, relaxes on some hay. Photos: Mark Condren
Metal work: Ploughman Mossy Trant at the National Ploughing Championships in Fenagh, Co Carlow, yesterday. Photo: Mark Condren
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The fields were the place to be - where the golden stubble of corn stalks crunched underfoot and the ploughmen focused on carving smooth, chocolatey furrows through the soil.

At the National Ploughing Championships, there was no better spot than to be up at the actual ploughing - soaking up the hot sunshine and the strangely pleasurable aroma of diesel and tractor oil, mingled with the autumnal scents of the hedgerows.

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Away from the anxiety of the 'Brexit hub' where, bafflingly, the Government had seen fit to attire staff in hi-viz jackets with 'Brexit Crew' on the back as if they were all jauntily on board with the whole crazy scheme.

There were people queueing at the door to be let in at 9am to have their Brexit queries answered.

Away from the spiralling tension of the beef crisis - with a small group of independent farmers holding their own protest at the Bord Bia tent.

And away, too, from the crowd of 102,500 people milling around the steel walkways of the site at Ballintrane, Fenagh, in Co Carlow - an area known locally as the 'Fighting Cocks'.

There was certainly much worry bubbling under the surface at the National Ploughing Championships and farmers were looking for as much information as possible from the relevant stands.

But they were also looking for the enjoyment and distraction that is the balm to the soul that their traditional annual day out always provides.

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And, happily, there was plenty of that to be found here, too.

"Peace? It's not peace," said Violet Hunter, from Ballisodare, Co Sligo, correcting any romantic misconceptions about what she gets out of the experience of ploughing with an old-fashioned loy.

"Skill," she said at last. "It's important to keep it going," she added, explaining that she is taking part in the Ladies' Loy competition tomorrow.

As always, the skill of ploughing was something that was much admired by President Michael D Higgins - possibly too warmly dressed for the day in his three-piece tweed suit - as he made his way up to inspect the work with wife Sabina, also wrapped up, in a purple coat.

Judges Eamon Cottrell, Leonard Bell and Philip Healy brought him through the list of criteria that makes a successful ploughing entry - such as the straightness and uniformity of the furrows and ridges. "He's interested and it's a nice thing in a man," said Eamon afterwards.

Mindful of the real issues, the President addressed the beef crisis in his speech, saying: "All of our wishes go out to those who want to see a future for the family farm.

"And I do wish those who are trying to solve things, I wish them every success.

"We must all work together to be able to create a future for rural Ireland and for farming which is at its heart and those who do the work, who are entitled to their fair share."

The President's first stop was to his favourite destination - the traditional horse-drawn ploughing, where horses Larry and Elton John were being kept on the straight and narrow by Gerry Dennehy, from Tralee, assisting horse-owner Mossy Trant and his nephew Jonathan (17) - taking part in his first National Ploughing Championships.

"My son had to go to Canada to work so Johnny here has his hand on the plough today. He is the start of the new ploughmen," said Mossy.

Coleman Cogan, from Sligo, with horses Ned and Ted, explained how his father had taught him how to give orders to the animals by clicking his tongue.

It was his personal ambition to plough in every county in Ireland, and so far he's done 30, he revealed.

Just two more to go, then? His wife, Patsy, wasn't so sure.

"I wonder," she said. "He'll probably want to go back and do them all again."

Reminded that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had ploughed a perfect furrow with Ned and Ted last year, Coleman roared with laughter. "Yes it was Ned and Ted that did the work," he admitted.

He misses the camaraderie of the ploughing of his youth, when neighbours would chip in and lend a hand. Now ploughing is a lonelier affair - "but there's no noise and the time is your own," he said.

Taking a break on a comfy bale of hay, James Coffey, from Roscommon, was delighted with the weather.

"Isn't it great to be outdoors on a day like this," he rejoiced.

But over at the vintage machinery stalls, there was the comfort of an old-style turf fire in a mobile thatch cottage fitted out by Joe Cleary and his wife, Hilary, from Ballinamere, outside Tullamore, Co Offaly.

With wooden dressers stocked with willow pattern plates, an old radio on a shelf and the Sacred Heart on the wall, Joe was inspired by the house he'd lived in when, as one of 12 children, he was sent up the road to live with neighbours.

"There was Mike Molloy, he was 92, his sister Mary who was 82 and his sister Maggie who was 87," he recalled fondly.

For visitors Mary and Jim Stamp, from nearby Bunclody, Co Wexford, the house was also a reminder of childhood.

"It's like my granny's house," said Mary.

"She'd cook colcannon in a skillet pot like that one and I'd have it coming home from school.

"They've done a right job of it," she said of the house.

Irish Independent

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