Nuala Carey: Ploughing festival the perfect place for city slickers to give it some welly
Close to 200,000 people will descend on Ratheniska in Co Laois next week for this year's National Ploughing Championships. Once again, I am thoroughly looking forward to being part of the crowd.
For a city girl like me, my annual trip to the championships may not be your most obvious choice of my ideal mini-break, but that's the beauty of this unique event; there is something to suit everyone, whether you are from an urban or rural part of the country, young or old.
I made the fatal mistake many years ago of remarking to the younger children enjoying their day out how lucky there were to be "given" the day off school to attend, to be told by their parents (with a nod and wink!) that they just "took" the day off school.
For older children and teenagers, there is now a growing trend of school tours coming along for the day. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case during my school days. If it had been, I'd have been the first one on the bus.
I was born in Dublin and have lived here all my life, but both of my parents grew up on a farm. Mom, Ann, is from Ballyglass, Castlemorris, Co Mayo, while Dad, Maurice, is from Lombardstown, Mallow, Co Cork. I feel a great sense of nostalgia when I return to the event and am conscious when I go back to Dublin that I am grounded and refreshed after my few days on the land and acknowledge that I cannot deny my roots, that perhaps deep down I am actually a county girl at heart.
I cannot think of another occasion where the Taoiseach and President mingle so freely with everyone. It is fair to say there are no airs or graces at this event, especially when most of us end up with more than a little dirt and dust on our clothes.
The whole event slightly reminds me of the hustle and bustle of the circus coming to town, a hive of activity all located in the one area, before it disappears only to reappear just as quickly next year. If I could bottle the wonderful atmosphere, I could be a millionaire a few times over.
In this year of The Gathering, I would argue that the championships were and are the original 'Gathering' and are still mostly used by farmers to take a break, down tools and enjoy a well-earned day out with their families, to meet up with neighbours and friends and learn about new machinery and techniques, while also admiring the handiwork of the skillful competitors. Furthermore, the money that is spent helps the local economy and the business that is done at the trade stands.