Livestock, tractor laps and the Lisbon Treaty were the key talking points today at the opening of this year’s National Ploughing Championships.
The lands of Eamon and Willie Fennin were invaded by hordes of farming families as the three-day annual event got under way in Cardenton, Co Kildare.
As 49,000 visitors perused stalls selling everything from spades to sushi, pro and anti-Lisbon campaigners distributed leaflets at one of the last major public gatherings before next week’s referendum.
The championships were officially opened by President Mary McAleese, who acknowledged it had been a particularly difficult summer for the country’s farmers.
“I know we’re going through a tough time, there’s no point in saying otherwise,” she said.
“Maybe there’s a sense at the moment that we’ve taken a little bit of a step back but we know the momentum is still there, our country is still a high achieving country and we are a people who will pull together.”
A large crowd gathered outside the National Ploughing Association tent in the hope of shaking hands with the President after she launched the event.
Among them were sheep farmers Thomas and Mary Kelly from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.
“I missed the speech so I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s wearing.” Mrs Kelly said.
“The President’s a class act – she’d be a hard one to follow for the politicians coming,” her husband added.
Mr Kelly expressed disappointment that Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith had not attended the opening day.
“They were all able to be here when things were going well. If they come I’d say they’ll get some hard time with such a crowd.”
Dan Casey from west Limerick was avoiding affairs of state by relaxing in the sunshine outside one of the event’s bustling beer tents.
“I’ll stay away from the politics, we’ll leave that to the politicians,” the 65-year-old said.
“It’s very important to the farming people at the end of the year to just get out, get a break and enjoy the competition.”
Around 150,000 people are expected to attend the championships over the three days of live music, fashion shows, cookery stalls and machinery demonstrations.
The event sees 300 competitors battle it out in 17 All-Ireland Ploughing finals, with classes ranging from vintage furrow trailers to a Senior Horse category.
Dairy farmer Denis Joyce from Tuam, Co Galway said many people failed to appreciate the level of expertise involved in ploughing.
“Becoming an Olympic event? Probably no, not yet. It’s not ready for that,” he said.
“But a big amount of effort and time goes into it. It’s a real skill getting the plough right and in shape.”
“This is a bit like the Galway Races. People kind of forget and enjoy the day out,” Mr Joyce added.
“But when you get back down to your own ordinary work, that’s when it hits home. Times aren’t good for farming.”