Excitement builds for season of agriculture shows

The showing season which has started countrywide will continue for the next six months with close on 140 events being held north and south.

Excitement builds for season of agriculture shows

The showing season which has started countrywide will continue for the next six months with close on 140 events being held north and south.

Thousands of spectators, exhibitors, and organisers are continuing a 200-year tradition that is now a shop window for showing quality horses, cattle, and sheep as well as being a promotional platform for Irish food, crafts, and culture.

But the shows also reflect inspiring volunterism in every community and the pride and confidence that show organisers have in their own place and their inherited heritage.

Indeed, the character of a rural show was often caught in the past by a man setting off from his home on the morning of the event with a bunch of washed carrots in a bag on his bicycle.

It was seen, too, in farmers travelling long distances with half-breds in horse boxes, cattle and sheep in trailers and hopes of going home in the evening with rosettes and prizes.

Young women modelling self-made summer dresses on a timber ramp hastily placed on bales of straw for a Macra na Feirme competition in a corner of a show grounds also captured the spirit of those infectious outings and so did the sideshows and entertainment.

And there were and still are loyal gatemen in white coats who took up duty every year with a money bag strapped across their shoulder, a roll of admission tickets in their hands, good-humoured banter with people coming to the show, and eagle eyes to ensure nobody got in without paying.

The secretary’s office, which was often an Indian-style teepee in the pre-marquee era, was always alive with noisy laughter and a mixture of contrasting accents. Somebody rooting in a biscuit tin for a scissors, or in a cardboard box for a piece of string, invariably added to the fuss.

And then, in the evening, when the champion hunter and dairy cow and other class winners had been chosen, visitors might see award-winning animals being led away by their handlers to a quite corner.

What took place next often intrigued people unfamiliar with the trappings of bloodstock and livestock showing and might have given the impression that some ancient rite was being perfomed.

Sharp-eyed onlookers would occasionally see a crouched man with a tuft of grass in his hand, jumping up and down like a monkey and uttering strange utterances like an New Zealand rugby player performing a quieter version of the haka.

Or it could be the sight of intent-looking people waving show catalogues above their heads like order papers being raised by animated British MPs, or it could just be a young stockperson rattling a feed bucket.

People who are not regular show visitors can be assured that such behaviour was and is a normal feature after the final judging of some major classes and is nothing to do with the position of the moon or human mood swings.

It has everything to do, however, with the desire of award-winning cattle and horse breeders and exhibitors to ensure their well-groomed animals are seen to stand properly and look well in the photographs taken after a big success.

Perception is everything and an animal with apparent good conformation in a photograph could be an important marketing asset in their subsequent sale.

All the activity on a show-day added to the appeal in a delightful and homely way. Many shows still retain much of that atmosphere despite changes in structure and style.

Raising standards has always been the basic aim of rural shows, and it is generally accepted that they played a central role in the development of agriculture skills over the decades.

Rural and Community Development Minister Michael Ring last described agricultural shows are a great celebration of rural culture.

They contribute significantly to the local economies of towns and villages and their hinterlands across Ireland. They are only able to continue because of the commitment of local volunteers.

Many shows have struggled recently with rising insurance and other costs, but sponsorships, local support ,and funding from the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine is helping.

Announcing a €600,000 allocation by his department to some 120 shows in 2019, in co-ordination with the Irish Shows Association (ISA), Mr r Ring said it represented an important investment in rural communities and the rural economy.

ISA president David Sheehan, of Rockbarton Stud, Bruff, Co Limerick, noted in a recent address for the start of the 2019 showing season that the Government acknowledges the importance of shows in sustaining and developing rural communities.

He said the vast majority of ISA affiliated shows are planned, organised and run by a dedicated network of volunteers.

“Rural life would be the poorer without the involvement of these people,” he said. “Each is worthy of respect and appreciation.

In addition, many sponsors, surrender their hard earned cash to support our shows and provide the grist to the mill in terms of each show’s very existence.

“Exhibitors, too, are entitled to command much credit for their commitment as they are the heartbeat of our shows and present their produce and animals at great inconvenience and expenses to themselves.”

Mr Sheehan said the shows provide a clear example of the benefts and value of volunteerism.

“Because of the involvement of local volunteers, communities are brought together with a common objective and each show supports local cohesion throughout rural Ireland,” he said.

“This is now especially important as various services are being lost throughout rural Ireland and communities need to know and bond with their neighbours.”

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