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Saturday 20 January 2018

Joyous mood pierced by tragic death of ploughing champion

Sean Monaghan from Longford has his work inspected by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, along with Anna May McHugh and NPA chairman Denis Kohane. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Sean Monaghan from Longford has his work inspected by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, along with Anna May McHugh and NPA chairman Denis Kohane. Picture: Gerry Mooney

Kirsty Blake Knox in Screggan

Let there be no mistake; convincing 127 teenagers to get out of bed, and onto a boat at 5am on a Tuesday is a Herculean task.

But one which teacher Mairéad Ní Fhatharta managed to achieve - after weeks of planning. "Well, the logistics certainly weren't easy, but it was certainly worth it," she said. Ní Fhatharta organised a charter boat to ferry the 127 sleepy, secondary school pupils from Inis Meáin, Inis Mór, and Inis Oírr across the sea to Screggan for the 86th Ploughing Championships.

"To make sure we got there and back in the day we had to charter the boat," she said. "They were up before 5am, and will be back on the islands around 9pm."

As the temperature's peaked at noon, so did the crowds with a record 112,500 attendees - up from 100,000 last year. Perhaps people were determined to make the most of the good weather - which was blustery and bright but relatively dry.

"Enjoy it. It's wellies or wet socks for the rest of the week," a man in a high vis jacket said nodding towards the horizon.

Met Éireann concurs, warning of rain across the site today - with the inevitable mud to follow.

Garda Inspector John Lawless said that yesterday's traffic was "moving well and light" partly due to the good weather and partly due to motorists following the colour-coded plan. But he warned motorists that today could be much heavier due to the forecast wet weather.

But as the sun shone yesterday, the mood was buoyant. "It's a nice day out sure," farmer John Buckley, from Buttevant, said as he entered the site. "Between this and Lisdoonvarna I'm set for the year."

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Last-minute preparations were being made on-site. Obstacles were being stacked together in the pig agility course, test runs were taking place on tractorpool karaoke, cows' forelocks were being dusted in talc and curls brushed into place.

At the U28 conventional ploughing, judge William King surveyed the opening splits. "I've been judging for 15 years," he said proudly. "Keep it level and uniform - that's the goal." Near him stood supervisor Sean Grace. "I'm the man who makes sure the plough is doing the work - not the boots," he said.

As men in wellingtons eyeballed the first ridge and furrows, President Michael D Higgins arrived.

While the president was willing to talk at length about economics, he merely hinted at the possibility of a second presidential term.

'X Factor' judge Louis Walsh said he had offered the president some counsel. "I told him to go for a second term," he said outside the National Dairy stand. "Why not? I think he'll do it."

Walsh was keen to stress his affiliation with the land - his family were from a small village in Mayo and had "ploughs and hay, and things," he said. But his arrival was anything but low key; touching down in a private helicopter, it felt more akin to something you'd hear about in the Galway Tent.

"My brother has two helicopters, so I am well used to choppers," Walsh said.

Elsewhere, the real all-star appeal came in the shape of Canning's Hurleys. From early morning, a queue snaked round the tent, as All-Ireland champion Joe Canning showed those waiting in line the Liam MacCarthy Cup. "I got Joe to sign this," Sean Synott (11), from Roscrea, said, holding his hurl in the air.

But a deep shadow was cast later with news of the tragic death of Martin Kehoe Jnr. He was the son of three times world ploughing champion Martin Kehoe.

Martin Snr was due to compete today and the ploughing community fell into deep mourning. They had lost one of their own. "We will take out his plot," Anna May McHugh said.

One of the NPA team added: "It's huge. There's grown men crying in that field".

Irish Independent



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