Wednesday 17 January 2018

Youth, wealth and a festival vibe fuel rural Ireland's renaissance

Stick a wad of cash in every pocket, a spring in every step and a day off from the daily grind for all
Stick a wad of cash in every pocket, a spring in every step and a day off from the daily grind for all
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Pluck every man, woman and child from the cities of Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny and Galway and transplant them to the tranquil fields of Co Laois.

That's the number of people we are talking about here.

Stick a wad of cash in every pocket, a spring in every step and a day off from the daily grind for all.

Unless you've attended the National Ploughing Championships - and who hasn't - you will know that even this fails dismally to conjure up just how popular, vibrant and lucrative this event really is; rolling social networking, retail therapy, 'downtime' and hijinks into one irresistible package.

Record attendances of 279,000 and a spend of well over €36.9m suggest, if not that the hard economic conditions in rural Ireland are over, that they are at least winding down.

Or, could it be, as one of the organisers privately suggested during the week, that the three-day social extravaganza in Ratheniska was but a welcome break from the harsh realities of life?

The beef crisis is seeing farmers facing a catastrophic drop in income, with the price of cattle falling €200 to €400 per head since this time last year.

And recent research has found that rural towns and their immediate hinterlands have been affected to a greater extent by the economic crisis in terms of unemployment.

Whatever the case, the Ploughing Championships offered a much welcome opportunity to focus on the strong positives of life in rural Ireland.

And with the statistics come a few surprises.

Contrary to urban perceptions, it's not just elderly farmers who go to the Ploughing. In fact, 31pc of those who went last year were from the coveted ABC1 socio-economic grouping, with farmers accounting for 35pc.

While a surprising 49pc of those who attend are under the age of 40 and just 10pc are aged 60 or over.

Wealth and youth? That's a retailers' dream right there.

But the urbanites will still whinge that there is nothing sexy about the Ploughing and all its rural connotations.

Tech is considered to be 'the future' and warrants the involvement of celebrities such as Eva Longoria and Lily Cole waxing lyrical about the importance and opportunities of the computer economy.

But the farming industry at large is laughably considered by a small urban elite to be a 'niche' concern - largely because it goes on quietly and without fuss. But it is real and tangible. You can't eat Facebook.

Young farmers are dynamic and progressive in looking to the future - you just had to see teenage boys expertly checking out the milking machines to realise that.

Meanwhile, the Ploughing had its own quota of celebrities.

Ireland's favourite weather man, Gerald Fleming, rugby's Rob and Dave Kearney and RTE's Marty Morrissey were among those causing a frenzy, while others took the chance of spotting favourite broadcasters like Joe Duffy and Ivan Yates. Then there were the politicians, media and celebrity chefs.

The real pleasures of life are the small ones. Even if it's just wolfing down a punnet of curry chips from the boot of the car while calling to your neighbours: "Back again next year."

Irish Independent

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