Sunday 17 December 2017

10 Best: Country shows

Pol O Conghaile

Prize cows, giant turnips, bonny babies and scrummy scones... country shows are a pure slice of the Irish summer. Pól Ó Conghaile tracks down his pick of this season’s crop

The Athlone Show, Co Westmeath

Taking place at Gaffey's Farm in Moydrum, Athlone's annual show is a big beast, with its cattle competitions topped only by those in nearby Tullamore.

It's not all cattle, horses and poultry, however. You can flex your tug-o-war muscles, kick back in the beer garden or sample the wares at the Made in the Midlands food village, a new initiative aiming to shine the spotlight on an area not widely known for its food.

Local cheeses, honey, vegetables, yogurts and chocolate will all be on show from producers such as Andrew McGuinness's Meadowsweet Farm, and you can tag along on with nutritionist Lynda McFarland as she goes foraging for nettles, garlic and sorrel in Moydrum woods.

Details: June 26. €10, kids go free. Tel: 086 254 0473;

The Claregalway Show, Co Galway

Last year, the sun was splitting the skies for Claregalway's 20th anniversary show, so fingers crossed there will be a brisk trade in sunscreen for its 21st.

The show is renowned for its Connemara pony classes, but exhibitors come from all over the county to parade prize sheep, cattle, dog and fowl around the rings too.

Prizes for some 250 classes are presented by a very busy Show Queen, and a large indoor section covers cookery, plants, handicrafts and more, pitting neighbour against neighbour in particularly spirited farm-produce contests.

A feisty donkey derby provides the finale.

Details: August 21. €8, kids go free. Tel: 087 918 0723;

Longford Show & Country Fair, Co Longford

First held in 1902, Longford Show is seen by many as a final run-out before the Dublin Horse Show the following weekend.

But it's not all equestrian -- classes for cattle, sheep, goats, poultry and crafts catch the eye too. Look out for cookery demos from Frank Moynihan ("he makes it short and interesting," as show secretary Margaret Thompson says) and fun competitions ranging from potato picking for kids to vegetable contests for local gardeners.

This year, the ICA ladies will run a restaurant bulging with homemade sambos and buns, so the packed lunch is strictly optional.

Details: July 23. €10, kids go free. Tel: 043 334 6712;

The Castlewellan Agricultural Show, Co Down

Castlewellan is coming back from adversity this year, after much of its equipment was burned in an arson attack last Halloween.

A fundraising auction and tireless local volunteers have got the show back on the road, however, and you can expect the cattle, horse, pony, donkey and dog competitions to be better than ever as a result. Even rescue hedgehogs have been known to make an appearance some years.

As befits its location in Castlewellan Forest Park, the show is particularly good for families -- children can compete to arrange wild flowers in a jam-jar, for example, or make book-ends from Pringle tubs. Spirits should be high at the show's first-ever street party too.

Details: July 16. €10, kids go free. Tel: 048 4063 0536; castlewellan

The Claremorris Show, Co Mayo

"There's just so much to see and do at a country show," says Maureen Finnerty, secretary of the Claremorris Show. "You even see the kids looking at the cattle, they're so spectacular. They love the animals, the horses, ponies, dogs and sheep.

"I love walking around myself, meeting people, seeing the art and the flowers. There are Americans now and they come home every year just for the Claremorris Show."

If that doesn't put the hook in you, the art, flowers, circus entertainers, heritage displays and dancing surely will.

A €1,500 prize put up by the McWilliam Park Hotel for the All-Ireland pedigree sucker-type heifer championship could make for the contest of the day.

Details: July 31. €10, kids go free. Tel: 094 936 2368;

The Adamstown Show, Co Wexford

Now in its 64th year, the Adamstown Show is shaping up to bring another slice of country life to the sunny south east.

The show is traditionally known for bloodstock, but with some 200 classes in agriculture, horticulture, arts, crafts and cookery, as well as a spread of dog shows, sheep dog trials, trade exhibitions and vintage displays, there's something for everyone.

A new class this year features inventions (come up with a 'labour-saving device' lately?), and the home industries area will send you home in the mood for baking -- cake classes include best Victorian jam sandwich and best pavlova.

There are qualifiers for the All-Ireland home cooking championship in Tullamore, too.

Details: July 2. €7, kids go free. Tel: 053 924 0635;

The Ardara Show, Co Donegal

Ardara's long-running show goes right to the heart of the community, with locals who have left the town regularly timing their holidays so they can return home to attend. It's a family-orientated affair, boasting sheep, horse and pony qualifiers and a huge marquee for the home industries.

"The cattle ring is the one that brings the big men from the length and breadth of Donegal," says the show's secretary, Tracey McGill -- but watch out for the brown bread competitions too.

"Locally, that's the one everybody is watching," Tracey says. "It could have nearly 50 entries. "If a young person wins it, the older entrants will be giving out. They've all been entering for years!"

Details: August 13. €10, kids go free. Tel: 087 674 1554.

The Dunmanway Agricultural Show, Co Cork

Many will know the Dunmanway Show as the setting for a brilliant broodmare championship and the Munster final of the pedigree beef bull championships.

Fewer may realise it hosts a world-class glamorous granny competition, too.

"There was a lady there last year and she'd put Michelle Obama to shame," says Kitty Cotter, the show secretary.

"She was wearing a 1960s outfit -- a lovely long skirt with a frilly blouse and belt; she had her hair up and earrings to match."

She won a voucher for Illusions boutique in Dunmanway, too.

Throw in farm-skills contests, a farmers' market and a craft fair among countless other events, and you've got the makings of a great day out.

Details: July 3. €10, kids go free. Tel: 023 884 7742; dunman

Kilmacanogue Horse Show, Co Wicklow

Living in the city is no excuse for missing out on a country show.

The Kilmacanogue Show takes place just 12 miles outside Dublin, after all -- near the pretty village of Enniskerry.

"We cater mostly for leisure riders, the people who work five days a week and ride at the weekends for fun," says Ethni Seymour, show secretary.

Competition categories range from hunters and cobs to Connemara ponies, visitors can try their hand at carriage- driving, and there are riding classes for kids too.

Heck, you can even bring the dog.

Categories in the ever- popular dog show range from 'rescued dogs' to 'dogs with the waggiest tail', and mongrels and pure-breeds alike are welcome.

Details: July 23. €5, kids go free. Tel: 01-286 3890; kilmacanogue

The Tullamore Show, Co Offaly

When it comes to country shows, Tullamore is the daddy.

Less a day out than a full-blown lifestyle experience, some 50,000 visitors swarm the Butterfield Estate every year, lapping up events that range from the AIB national livestock show -- which Dublin readers may recall as the Spring Show in the RDS -- to vintage machinery and bonny babies.

"It's really a town in a field," as the show secretary, Freda Kinnarney, describes it.

Where else would you be able to watch the finals of the Macra na Feirme All-Ireland farm skills competition, browse the latest gadgets and gizmos, buy a jeep, and enter the Miss or Mr Offaly contest all on the same day?

Details: August 14. €15, kids go free. Tel: 057 935 2141;

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