Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Nuala Carey: Ploughing festival the perfect place for city slickers to give it some welly

Jim Stanley watches on as Lydia Turley kisses his champion heifer at the launch of the 82nd National Ploughing Championships on the site in Ratheniska, Co Laois
Jim Stanley watches on as Lydia Turley kisses his champion heifer at the launch of the 82nd National Ploughing Championships on the site in Ratheniska, Co Laois

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.

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That camaraderie within the farming community is something I am quite envious of, as sometimes in the city one can literally get lost in a sea of people.

This year will be my 10th in a row to attend. As part of the RTE team, I will be working at the event, but it never feels like work.

We are delighted to meet new people and greet the now familiar faces who return to our marquee each year to say hello. And with our fabulous summer this year, there will be much good news to chat about and reflect on.

It is worth remembering that our daily weather bulletins are broadcast from RTE in a small studio at the back of the building and we are there on our own.

In fact, I sometimes forget that anyone is watching, so for us it is a lovely opportunity to meet our loyal viewers, get some feedback, make new friends and meet up with old ones.

So, if you don't mind large crowds, and aren't precious about a getting a little muck on your wellies, I look forward to meeting you next week down at the National Ploughing Championships in Co Laois (the best news is that all the signs are that the weather will be good).

Come and 'explore RTE' at Block 1, Row V, Stand 357.

Nuala Carey is an RTE weather presenter. The Irish Independent will produce a special supplement on the Ploughing Championship next Tuesday.

Irish Independent

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