It's standing-room only for politicians and the papacy at the Ploughing
More records broken on Day 2 of 'the Ploughing' in Ratheniska, Co Laois, reports Lise Hand
THE slightly frazzled mother looked down at her two young delirious sons who each were tugging at her to travel simultaneously in two different directions - to the left towards some enormous farm machinery, and the right towards some dangerous-looking saws.
"Do ye know what ye are looking to look at?" she demanded, surveying the miles of stands stretching towards the impossibly crowded horizon.
There are two types of Irish native sons and daughters - those who have been to the National Ploughing Championships, and those who have neither a clue nor an interest in the massive three-day annual festival which involves all things agricultural.
But among the hundreds of thousands of people in the first category, this event is so famous that - akin to mega-celebs such as Madonna, Maradona and Elvis who trade under a single moniker - it's known simply as the Ploughing.
And yesterday, perhaps due a heady combination of balmy weather and a boomy economy, a record-smashing crowd of over 124,000 visitors poured onto the site for day two - usually the attendance is around 80,000 for the second day.
The first thing to strike a new visitor to the Ploughing is the sheer boggling scale of the operation. It is absolutely huge. 23km of trackway runs in a grid around 1,400 stands. The site, including the fields where the competitions take place, sprawls across 800 acres of good Laois land. For city-dwellers, it's like being transported to the surface of the Moon - yesterday one Dublin-based journalist spent some time quizzing some puzzled members of the ICSA (Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association) about cattle prices, only to discover he had wandered into the tent of the ICSMA (Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association) instead.
It would be quite easy to spend three days at the Ploughing without seeing a horse, tractor or loy in action, such is the vast amount of other entertainment on offer.
For instance, adjoining the enormous Aldi marquee (dubbed the 'Taj Mahaldi' by one wit on the wireless), the second semi-final of the most fiercely-contested competition at the festival was underway to a packed audience.