Saturday 24 March 2018

Muddy hell, the Ploughing is more than just a big field

Crowds enjoying day two of the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, near Stradbally, Co Laois Pic: Mark Condren.
Crowds enjoying day two of the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, near Stradbally, Co Laois Pic: Mark Condren.
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

You don't realise the true scale of the Ploughing Championships until you go there. I went last year, dumbly expecting it to be mostly some fields, tractors and animals, with a few stalls dotted here and there, and crowds maybe in the tens of thousands.

Au contraire: despite the name, the Ploughing is about much more than, well, ploughing. It's a gigantic open-air expo of machinery, livestock, feedstuffs, tools, vehicles, and thousands of non-farming products besides. It reminded me of the old RDS Spring Show, but ramped up to the nth degree.

And the crowds! The crowds are equally massive: almost quarter-of-a-million last year. The Ploughing dwarfs the All-Irelands, and would even give those abortive Garth Brooks gigs a run for their dollar.

Which is why it was right and fitting that many radio shows relocated to Co Laois midweek, for the duration of the event. And this change of scenery was clearly nice for the presenters too, as they all sounded like they were having fun.

Ivan Yates (Breakfast, Newstalk, Mon-Fri 6.30am) sounded like he was having more fun than everyone else, but then again, he usually does. That, I think, is one of the main reasons why Newstalk gave him the gig, apart from his business and political backgrounds.

Yates gives the impression that, while taking all this stuff seriously, he doesn't take it seriously on a more profound and important level. No, that's not quite it: a better way of phrasing it might be to say that Ivan seems to recognise the inherent absurdity in much of the human condition; you picture him smiling wryly and sighing in an almost affectionate way at this ridiculous carnival we call life.

Having said that, his description of the Sam Maguire cup - one of the great icons of Irish culture - as "Big Sam" was close to unforgivable. But we will, just this once.

Ann Doyle also sounded mucho relaxed, chatting to Pat Kenny (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 10am) about retirement and more. Pat put it to the news-reading legend that she must be happy to still be included in those "Ireland's sexiest women" lists; Ann drolly responded, "Sure, that's only because they haven't seen me in years."

The Ray D'Arcy Show (Today FM, Mon-Fri 10am) had reports from the ploughing too, and also an extended interview with Michael O'Leary. Now there's a man who sounded like he was having fun.

Once the bête noire of Irish business, O'Leary was playful, relaxed, witty and - am I really writing this? - even charming. Ploughing a new furrow, you might say.

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