Politics can't spoil a perfect day at Ploughing for Bertie
Election fever in the air - but former Taoiseach does best to stay out of it
There was plenty of mud there for the slinging but Bertie Ahern was keeping his hands clean as he gazed intently into a cow stall - and busily avoided Micheál Martin like the plague.
The former Taoiseach was having a most enjoyable day.
He was out and about, poking into animal sheds and listened briefly to a lecture on livestock breeding. He hit the Aldi stand and sampled the fish chowder - Bertie is a big fan of the chowder and buys it regularly, apparently.
Then he had a bit of a steak there too, all in the company of his auld mucker, Cyprian Brady. Judging by the number of selfies he stood in for, his rehabilitation has already begun. Or considering many were teenagers, maybe they were just too young to remember.
But on a day when the only other option was Big Phil Hogan on the rampage, Bertie's familiar face inspired fans to spring with alacrity and devotion from the crowd.
"You're looking well," they told him. And indeed he was.
And then he took a wander into the Foróige Little Acorn garden, also sponsored by Aldi, where the theme - deliciously enough - was Time Travel. What an opportunity to fondly reflect on the 'boomier' times, skipping hurriedly over the "cribbin' and moanin'" bit and the part where it all started to go a bit skewy.
There was a Tardis Time Machine, with one side depicting the past and the other the future. Bertie didn't seem to be too optimistic about how this is going to go for his former party, if his non-committal response but significant body language was anything to go by.
Not here to kickstart the election campaign early, was he?
Bertie gave a broad and wry smile.
"I'm not here to start any campaign," he said.
He was rather startled to hear that Micheál Martin was here.
"I thought he was down yesterday," he said, but went on to tell a jolly story about how he had seen him at the All-Ireland and that Micheál had been "shouting for Dublin", in a demonstration that the old Bertie-vision is still in operation.
When told that the Fianna Fáil leader had literally just moments earlier again ruled out a coalition with either Sinn Féin or Fine Gael after the next election, Bertie gave a smaller and rather tighter smile.
He "wouldn't get involved", he said, shrugging in a way that suggested it was their own funeral.
There was a moment's hesitation. And then he had to scratch that old irresistible itch: "Did he do that… rule out everybody? Let them off."
The itch didn't go away. "He didn't say when the election was, did he?" asked Bertie, hurriedly, before tearing himself away from it all.
He had picked the wrong place for a ramble yesterday with the crisp smell of an election in the air. It was politics central on the final day of the Ploughing.
The only antidote was to go to the livestock section and to check out Glenwood Earl - an honest to goodness bull, reared by Pedigree Blonde cattle breeder John O'Halloran from Mullinahone, Co Tipperary.
Weighing 950kg and with massive muscles delicately covered with immaculately groomed blonde hide, the Earl was an impressive specimen and has won multiple prizes.
Blonde meat is 'super-lean' and delicious, said John. The only problem is that you cannot buy it here for love nor money. Anything we produce is exported over to Italy where they appreciate a proper cut of beef - and are willing to pay for it.
This special beef would be more expensive than the regular kind - but not by all that much, he said. But the Irish consumer won't pay it.
"You could go into Italy and buy the blonde beef at the supermarket easily enough but you'll never get it here," said John.
"It's a crime," he declared.
He showed us a nice little brown cross-breed bull calf born last St Patrick's Day and sold a few days ago for €2,200 to a "commercial showman".
The little creature dozed sleepily on the straw before being roused to show himself off. This will be his life for the foreseeable future and he will tour the shows as a 'perfect specimen'.
"He'll have a lovely life for himself," said John.
In the meantime, Big Phil had taken himself up to the ploughing plots to meet the reigning World Champion ploughman, Eamon Treacy. But then a sudden torrential downpour hurtled from the skies and he was forced to bolt. The pace had quickened up at the plots and the match was truly on.
Never minding the rain, sisters Teresa Buckley and Abina Kenny, from Newmarket, Co Cork, were peacefully tucked into plastic ponchos.
"We're just enjoying the day and the fresh air," said Teresa.
They come to the Ploughing every second year for nostalgic reasons. Their father knew all about farming and it's a nice way to keep in touch, they explained.
A bit of muck was good for you, said Abina.
Other competitions were under way too. Eabha Campbell (15) from Truagh, Co Monaghan, won the Aldi Junior Baking Competition, beating 500 other bakers throughout the country in the various heats to be crowned the ultimate champion.
Her 'floral bouquet' of carrot cupcakes - made to the family recipe of a South African friend - was a tribute to Monaghan, with a sugar pair of boxing gloves representing Barry McGuigan; a book of music representing Big Tom and a dove for the border.
She's been baking since she was a child, said her mother Deanna, proudly. But Eabha has another talent: target shooting. "A bit different from baking," she conceded.
It was confirmed that next year, the 85th National Ploughing Championships will be held on a centrally located site in Screggan, Tullamore, Co Offaly, from September 20 to 22.
In all, roughly 281,000 people attended the Ploughing this year - putting it 1,500 up on last year, in another new record.
"Never goes down," said an organiser in triumph.
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