Retailers have a field day at the Ploughing's fun finale
Where there's muck, there's brass and the tills have been jingling loudly at the Ploughing Championships this year. But while our Indian summer meant the mud was in short supply for once, money was more plentiful than it's been in a while.
Attract nearly 300,000 people to a few hundred acres, with over 1,400 traders and just three days to spend their money, and you're bound to create a bit of retail fever.
The final day is traditionally the quietest but there was no sign of a lull, as 73,000 visitors thronged the site.
From combine harvesters to chocolate fountains, there wasn't much you couldn't get at the temporary rural emporium at Ratheniska, in Co Laois.
Regular retailers would kill for a bit of this action - the queue to get into the O'Neills sportswear tent was 100-deep at times yesterday, with county GAA jerseys proving a massive draw.
At the tractor and machinery stands there was a lot of tyre-kicking going on, with onlookers eyeing up the sleek and shiny beasts priced up to €120,000.
There was a lot of serious enquiries as well, though actual sales tend to follow after the event, said Alan Davis, of Gerry Duffy Machinery, who was selling Deutz Fahr tractors.
GAA stars Joe and Ollie Canning, meanwhile, were doing huge business at their hurling stand as in between taking selfies and signing sliotars for their fans, they sold out of most of their famous sticks.
"All of the farmers are spending their money," said a delighted Joe, who revealed they had to open the side of the tent at one point to let people exit safely.
He tipped Kilkenny to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup in tomorrow's hurling replay and said he'd love to be on the field himself.
"I thought Kilkenny would win it the last day, I probably would still go for them a little bit the next day, they've a bit more to improve on," he said.
Hurling fans from all over liked dropping in for a chat, especially to discuss the upcoming match with the experts. "You try and tell them as much as you can, it's just for the chat more so than anything, and if they buy a hurl, it's great," he said.
The only thing the crowds liked better than celebrity retail therapy was free stuff, with supermarkets such as Tesco, SuperValu and Lidl all providing samples, cooking demos and competitions to lure in the punters.
Aldi was the undisputed winner of the 'My tent is bigger than yours' competition, and over the three days claimed to have attracted a staggering quarter-of-a-million punters to sample the wares in its foliage-bedecked shopping village.
Even Taoiseach Enda Kenny couldn't stay away, making a surprise visit to the Aldi marquee for the final of the National Brown Bread Baking Competition.
This was the first time in 31 years the competition has been held, and the leader of the country arrived just as Tipperary woman Betty Williams was announced as the winner.
She should sign a contract to feed the Tipperary team in advance of their all-Ireland replay tomorrow, a beaming Taoiseach told the delighted bake-off crowd, as he raised a cheer for the winning baker. Betty, from Clonmel, said she was astounded at her success as, despite baking for 50 years, she'd only taken it up in earnest four years ago to help her through a very difficult time in her life.
"I love baking and I love making things for people, but I never expected to win something like this," she said. The secret of baking success was a hot oven and keeping it simple, she said.
Her recipe was nearly scuppered however, when one eager contestant had to be discouraged from opening the ovens to see how the bread was getting on.
Competition judge Eileen Brennan, who won the title last time it was held in 1973, said Betty's addition of nuts and seeds have also given "a lovely bit of grit" .
Experience clearly counted for a lot as the four bake-off finalists, all of them members of the Irish Countrywomen's Association, between them racked up a staggering 185 years of baking history. But though Margaret Kelly, Margaret Jennings and Statia Ivers all baked up a storm, there could only be one winner and as well as the national title, Betty took home €2,000 in Aldi vouchers.
The only male baker getting much attention was Paul Murphy, an Aldi supplier dubbed Paul the Baker, who took to the stage to sing.
He became a You Tube sensation last year, getting 53,000 hits for one track, and his colleagues persuaded him to do an encore this year. "I sing in the shower, in the bathroom and in the car, but I'm not a singer," he said modestly.
Attendance smashed all previous records yesterday, with thousands of schoolchildren and families arriving from every corner of the country.
Among them were the Magee family, from Inniskeen in Co Monaghan, who showed a definite gender split in their interests.
Dad Fintan revealed he and sons Cormac (8) and Conor (6) were there for the machinery, while mother Majella and daughter Orla (13) planned to shop and visit the trade and cookery demos.
Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh was another high-profile visitor, posing for pictures with the Taoiseach. The 2014 Rose also lent her support to the Join Our Boys charity, which raises awareness of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).
DMD is a rare but terminal disease and the charity was set up by Padraic and Paula Naughton whose three young boys Archie, George and Isaac, have all been diagnosed with the illness.
Dozens of charities attended the event, finding it the perfect forum to raise awareness and funds for their cause, ranging from the Irish Wheelchair Association to Self Help Africa.
One of the perennial delights is the persistent intercom commentary by ploughing veteran Carrie Acheson, which this year featured exasperated warnings to young people to "tie your mobile phone around your neck".
Early morning visitors were even more startled by the announcement that a missing sheepdog had been arrested and was being "detained" near Ratheniska church.
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