Staying power - Ireland's oldest agricultural expo
Horses have long been at the centre of Iverk Show, the oldest agricultural expo in Ireland
Founded in 1826, the Iverk Show celebrates its 190th birthday this Saturday at its showgrounds outside Piltown, Co Kilkenny.
As the oldest agricultural show in the country, Iverk has also grown to be one of the most popular, particularly for equine and livestock exhibitors, many of whom mark it as the final outing of the showing calendar.
While much has changed since the early days, horse showing at the venue actually goes back over 145 years, with some of the first references dating to 1871.
The Irish Times of October 7, 1876, carried a report on the show and noted a "marked improvement in stock on previous years. And in no department was this more remarkable than the horse show; indeed, a finer lot of horses bred by farmers is not in the country".
Back then, the show dates varied from late September to early October and it was only in the latter years that it was moved to late August. The traditional day was always Thursday, but following a two-week postponement (to a Saturday) due to bad weather in 2009, it was decided to move the show to the last Saturday in August for the foreseeable future.
In the late 1800s, horses had a more practical use than today and many of the class descriptions would include those "best adapted for hunting purposes".
Indeed hunting was always popular in this area and the Bessborough Hunt often held its puppy show during Iverk.
Located just across the road from the show site, the Bessborough Estate was first built in 1745 and was home to the Ponsonby family until 1940, when taken over by the Oblate Fathers.
In 1971, it was purchased by the Department of Agriculture for close to €320,000 and renamed Kildalton College, now a hugely successful agricultural and horticultural college run by Teagasc.
It is not clear when show jumping began at Iverk but it was mentioned in a report in the Freemans Journal of 1906. More recently, the show has hosted a leg of the National Grand Prix League, in addition to a full programme of horse and pony classes. This year's highlight will be the Nissan Grand Prix, with a prize-fund of €2,000.
Showing enthusiasts today would be amused to note the rules that were in place 100 years ago. For example, Rule 15 stated that horses in the line-up first had to undergo a veterinary examination in order to secure a prize.
Nan Murphy is one of several local residents who remembers the show in the 1930s.
"It was always a special day in the calendar and one our family never missed," she said.
"I remember getting up early in the morning to hand-milk the cows before my father loaded us into the pony and trap for the one and a half hour journey to Piltown.
"I think I have only missed one or two shows in my lifetime that I can remember.
"To me, as a little girl, the place was full of horses. It was always recognised as a great place to sell horses, especially trooper types for England.
"The show jumping was fantastic too. It cost us two shillings to enter the show and another two shillings if one wanted to watch the jumping from the comfort of the stand, or just one shilling to watch from the sideline seats.
"I also remember being awestruck by the ladies riding side-saddle. I did not know how they stuck to the side of the horse."
Side-saddle classes will again feature at the show this year and in addition, the two most consistent ex-racehorses of the season being ridden side-saddle will be eligible to take part in the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Racehorse to Riding Horse 2016 Supreme Championship Final.
The RDS winner, Forpadydeplasterer, and reserve, Snaefell, have automatically qualified and among those also due to line out are Zaidpour, French Accordion, Glantara and Arvika Ligeonniere.
First introduced in 1983, the All Ireland Broodmare and Foal Team Championship will this year be supported by Investec Wealth and Investment to the tune of €4,300.
A total of 24 qualifiers took place countrywide in a bid to find the best non-thoroughbred broodmare and foal.
Meanwhile, Horse Sport Ireland sponsors the Working Hunter Championship which offers a breeding grant of €1,000, and other finals to be decided include the Rose of Iverk for the best two-year-old non-thoroughbred filly.
Aside from the horses, the Iverk Show continues to host some of the most popular livestock classes, among them the Irish Angus Bull Calf Championship.
Now in its fourth year and already established as one of the biggest cattle competitions in the country, it carries a generous prize-fund, with the winner receiving €2,000.
Other feature competitions include the Ulster Bank Pedigree Inter-Breed Beef Championship and the Deloitte Ireland Iverk Championship.
To celebrate 190 years at the Iverk Show, a display of old memorabilia and photographs will be on view during the day.
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