All things bright and beautiful as 30,000 flock to country fair
Four-legged entrants competed to be best terrier in the Five Nations
A STICK-MAKING competition doesn't sound promising but it was all part of the fun that drew 30,000 people to a midlands town yesterday.
The annual Irish Game and Country Fair in Birr Castle, Co Offaly, was a celebration of all manner of country pursuits.
But it wasn't only traditional activities like falconry that were on show -- it also included dancing horses and a competition for the best terrier.
Organiser Philip Lawton said there was a couple of firsts for the fair, with the inaugural Five Nations terrier championships held yesterday and the John McClelland Memorial Cup awarded to the artisan judged to have made the most impressive walking stick.
"Every village in the country had someone to make a stick, but now it's become something of a hobby," he said.
"We had the first-ever stick-making competition. These are fancy walking sticks which people carve heads on to and it was run by the Celtic Stickmakers."
Four-legged entrants from the Republic, the North, England, Scotland and Wales competed to be crowned best terrier in the Five Nations championships.
"These terriers are used for pest and fox control. It's the first time it's ever been held," he said.
"The judges are looking for good working dogs. They have to be strong and fit for purpose. The judges have years of experience and they can work it out from the dogs themselves.
"In the normal course of events they'd keep down rats, help cull foxes and minks.
"There isn't a waterway in Ireland that isn't plagued by mink -- they destroy fish stocks and eat ducks."
The recent tightening of gun laws and the introduction of new hunting and breeding legislation has led to a strengthening of organisations such as the National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC).
In 2007, the then Tanaiste, Brian Cowen officially opened Birr's first Game and Country Fair.
"I'm not sure what kind of reception he would get here today," NARGC director Des Crofton said. "To put it mildly, a lot cooler than he would have gotten."
But there were plenty of other distractions available.
There was nine horse-drawn carriages of different types in a parade, dancing horses from the Cochise Stud and lessons for children in how to fire a longbow.
A claypigeon shoot with €14,000 in prizes attracted a "huge" number of entries.
Some 10,000 attended the fair on Saturday, and 25,000 yesterday.
They included Josh Glancy, (8) from Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, who took part in the falconry display, pictured above.
"It's the biggest game fair in Ireland, it caters for the shooting people, the anglers, the gun dog-training people and those involved in equestrian events," organiser Mr Lawton said.