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Saturday 20 January 2018

Opinion: Excitement and trepidation as we gear up for show season

 

Final Brush Down: Billy Dunne, Errill, Co Laois grooming his cattle at the Ossory Show, Rathdowney, Co Laois. Photo: Alf Harvey.
Final Brush Down: Billy Dunne, Errill, Co Laois grooming his cattle at the Ossory Show, Rathdowney, Co Laois. Photo: Alf Harvey.
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Oil-blackened horse hooves, talced up udders, proud photos of ruddy-faced white-coated handlers and their red rosette-bearing stock. It can only mean one thing - the agricultural show season is under way.

For many, these shows punctuate their year, participation is a drug.

Over the coming months, this special breed of person will spend countless hours training, washing and primping their stock.

Then, usually on weekends, they will ferry them up and down the country's highways and byways to often obscurely located showgrounds, tidy 'em up again, then hang around waiting to strut their stuff.

For the few, there is glory and delight… and some financial reward; for the many, disappointment. But there is always another day.

Agricultural shows have a long history in Ireland, with Iverk in Kilkenny claiming to be the oldest, having being first run in 1826.

The original aim was to dissipate information and improve farming standards by recognising and rewarding the best proponents across a wide range of farming enterprises and farmhouse endeavours.

At that time, the show was the highlight of the year in a community, both in terms of participation and as a social event.

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Today, they negotiate a tricky path between preserving the ideals of the past and finding relevance in the present.

They are competing with a wide range of events for people's attention. Many are hanging on by their fingertips. A fine day is often the difference between a small profit and a financial disaster.

Yet, reflecting what is happening across Ireland's rural communities, some have bucked the trend and are flourishing. And, again like rural life in general, vibrancy requires young blood or at least fresh thinking.

For the past few years, myself and the offspring have been participating in some of the indoor classes at our local Ossory show, in Rathdowney.

The first time I tried the baking, it was fruit scones. When they came nowhere, I was very disappointed.

I noticed they had been cut but none was eaten so obviously it was judged on appearance, texture, etc. How in the name of Mary Berry can a food be judged without being tasted?

Last year, I entered a Madeira cake and a tea brack. The brack was an also-ran but the Madeira came second, to my delight.

We never got to taste it, though.

As I was packing up to leave, a woman, whom I didn't know, walked in and pleasantly asked me if she could buy a cake.

It was clear that she had been showing stock. Her white shirt that would have started the day pristine was now grubby, and the rolled-up sleeves exposed dirty water marks on her arms while there were spatters on her jeans.

I picked up the brack to say "okay", but the slice that had been cut for the judging went flying off the board. I had no problem picking it up and eating it myself but I wouldn't be thick enough to sell it to someone else.

So it had to be the Madeira, for which I pocketed the princely sum of €4. We would happily have eaten it ourselves but I could see she had a hunger for a bit of home-baking.

This year's edition of the Ossory show is on July 23.

From before 9am, the exhibition shed will be buzzing as people arrive with entries. They might look nonchalant but every one of them wants to win.

It's rare enough in my life now that I pitch myself directly up against others but I have to admit that, walking into the shed after the judging, I always feel a mix of excitement and trepidation.

Inwardly, I'll be praying that I'll find a coloured card placed on my entries. Just thinking about it sends a tingle down my spine.

A simple life, eh!


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