DESPITE the general economic doom and gloom, there was a spring in the step of the thousands of rural people who flocked to the national and European ploughing championships in Athy, Co Kildare, yesterday.
That’s because most farming sectors have performed better in 2010 after two difficult years of below-cost production.
However, people visiting the showpiece outlined their fears and worries to politicians and others over the impact the recession and credit crunch is having on their lives and future.
Some visitors even sought consoling words from churches and prayer groups which have stands at the three-day event. Among them are the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, and the Free Presbyterian Church.
Prayer requests were taken at one stand. They will be sent to the Poor Clares and Carmelite nuns for intercession.
“Do not despair,” read another leaflet, as rural people rose above the economic difficulties for the day at least to enjoy a wonderful feast on a 700-acre site.
President Mary McAleese, who officially opened the event, told the crowds that by their presence they were creating an inspirational sign of what they are capable of achieving when everybody pulls together.
“There is a big statement in this place about the faith and pride we have in ourselves and the hopes we have that we will put out country back on the map of economic progress and prosperity.
“We will do it between us and we will do it for our children. Please God we’ll see the evidence of that very soon because the passion is there and the pride is there,” she said.
President McAleese praised the massive community effort to transform a working farm and its fields into a temporary city complete with traffic management, entertainment, restaurants, exhibits, competitions, workshops, information points and meeting places.
“Thank you all for the way in which, despite the tough economic climate, you have brought to these fields not just a brand new temporary capital of rural Ireland, but a visible and inspirational sign of what we are capable of achieving when we pull together.
“But then there is inspirational leadership right at the top and whether times are good or bad Anna May McHugh and her daughter Anna Marie along with their team face into the logistics of this massive annual undertaking with sheer determination and resilience and each year they deliver an experience even better than the year before,” she said.
President McAleese said the ploughman or woman is focussed on using the present to prepare well for the future.
“He or she knows that there are things up ahead over which they have no control, weather, global economics, illness, pests but they also know that if they do nothing then there will be no hope of a harvest.
“So they plough and plant, their faces turned to the future in hope and their hands and hearts determined to be active creators of that future, not passive spectators.
“These championships honour those who plough and, of course, it is a special thrill to have competitors from countries hoping to become European champions,” she said.
President McAleese was later introduced to the European competitors from 13 countries as the Irish Air Corps Pipe Band played lively tunes including the rollicking Rakes of Mallow.
Fine weather and a fresh breeze with a threat of showers added to the enjoyment of the record opening day attendance.
“It’s like coming out of Croke Park after an All-Ireland final,” said one man, as he looked at the crowded trackways where town and country people celebrated their shared heritage.
The National Ploughing Association said the estimated attendance of 66,000 people at the championships yesterday was up over 20,000 on the opening day last year.
It attributed the increased attendance to good weather.
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