180,000 ready to plough an upbeat furrow
UP to 180,000 visitors are expected to flock to this year's National Ploughing Championships tomorrow.
The organisers of the event in Athy, Co Kildare, say they expect strong crowds as the harvest has been completed successfully and the mood amongst farmers is buoyant compared to last year, when food prices had plunged to record lows.
This is the second year in a row the event will be held on the 700-acre site in Cardenton, just 5km from Athy, generating €10m for the local economy.
Some 25,000 steaks will be consumed on site, along with 20 tonnes of Irish burgers, sausages and bacon, 10,000 eggs, as well as 12,000 litres of milk and 6,000 litres of tomato ketchup.
The three-day event is seen as the highlight of the farming year, with visitors flocking to see European and national ploughing contests, livestock and machinery exhibitions as well as lifestyle, fashion and cookery demonstrations.
It will also be politically charged, with Taoiseach Brian Cowen among those set to attend on Thursday.
However, improving dairy and grain prices have delivered a much-needed boost to farm incomes, meaning a repeat of last year's angry scenes when the Taoiseach was jeered and heckled by farmers is not expected.President Mary McAleese will formally open the event at noon tomorrow. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore will attend on Wednesday, as will Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith.
Other celebrity visitors this week will include soccer ace Kevin Doyle, All-Ireland hurling champions Tipperary, members of the Munster rugby team and TV chef Neven Maguire.
Tomorrow will also feature a 'Most Appropriately Dressed Lady' competition, with a €5,000 Littlewoods voucher for the winner, while the 'Most Appropriately Dressed Man' will win a Louis Copeland outfit.
Spokeswoman Annamarie McHugh said that last year's traffic plan had proved their most successful ever and therefore access had been left largely unchanged.
This will include park and ride facilities, with Bus Eireann carrying passengers from the Orange Car Park near Bert Bridge dropping them to Cuan Mhuire, as well as a transfer service from Athy, Kildare and Portarlington train stations.
Gardai will operate the traffic management plan, with some one-way routes operating at different times of the day. Signs will direct the public to the free car parks. Entrance is €20 for adults, €15 for students and free for under-12s.