Any third-level students seeking primary source material for a thesis on rural volunteerism and community spirit need go no further than Tullamore.
They will find in that part of Co Offaly a society that embodies all that is good about the people living in rural Ireland — their agri-business and other achievements, their skill in promoting their own place and their ability to cope with adversity.
The structures, management and success of Tullamore Show, whose silver jubilee will be celebrated at the annual event next Sunday, are templates for any organisation, voluntary or otherwise, in any sphere of activity.
Held on the second Sunday in August each year, the annual event is now firmly established as Ireland’s premier one-day agricultural show with a network of “villages” for food, catering, business, entertainment and craft activities.
Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister, Michael Creed, will officially open this year’s event at 11.30am on a splendid site that will be serviced by 600 volunteers.
Gardaí will have a traffic management plan in place but people are being urged to arrive early, as accessing the site after 3pm may prove more difficult, due to lane restrictions.
The show attracts the best livestock and equine breeders from all over the country, alongside entrants for over 1,000 other competitions, which have a total prize fund of €168,000.
Some of the finest beef and dairy cattle in Europe compete for prestigious gold medals in the AIB National Livestock Show which also includes sheep breeds.
The event is expected to attract over 60,000 people to the 250 acre site on the Butterfield Estate in Blueball, which will have colour-coded car parks with 20,000 free parking spaces.
Last year, the show had some 700 trade stands, eight hectares of tented pavilions, six catering villages and was organised by an executive of 30 members and 23 sub-committees. It will be of similiar scale this year.
Government ministers and rural leaders have often praised agricultural shows such as the one in Tullamore for playing an important role in the social calendar of the country’s diverse rural community.
These events, many of them with a tradition going back 200 years, allow people to meet their friends and fellow farmers and discuss the latest developments in their industry, including the agri-food business.
This is all the more relevant now because the sector is such a key driver of economic growth and export earnings.
Tullamore Show executive, headed by Rodney Cox, chairman; Brenda Kiernan, vice chairperson; Freda Kinnarney, secretary-administrator; George Gill, secretary; Pat Hartnett and Tom Maher, joint treasurers and Christy Maye, PRO, is experienced, pragmatic and helpful.
Those same attributes explain why a small group of people met with the idea of reviving the show 25 years ago.
Tullamore was the only large town in the Midlands that did not have a show of its own at that time. It had been 53 years since the last show had taken place.
The first agricultural show was held in Tullamore 1840. It lapsed in 1843, but was revamped. The last in that series of shows was held in 1938, but the idea was reignited again in 1991.
It was a period when the Celtic Tiger gripped the economy. The country was still recovering from Italia ’90 fever and Ireland’s largest agricultural event, the Dublin Spring Show, was coming to an end.
A hesitancy that the days of such events might be over eventually gave way to a decision to proceed with plans to create the first modern agricultural show on the outskirts of Tullamore.
It was big success and the following year, it was moved to the Charleville Estate, where it was expanded and held for many years.
But it was not immune to some great challenges. It had to be cancelled on three occasions. The first was due to the outbreak of ‘Foot and Mouth’ disease in 2001.
Having to cancel a major show at the last minute on two successive subsequent years would have proven too dauntng for most organisers. But the Tullamore executive was courageous and resiliant.
The support of the local and regional community, a demand from the public, the goodwill of exhibitors and the pride of the Offaly people ensured the continuation of the show.
Reviewing the cancellations, it was agreed to move the event to the Butterfield Estate about 5km from the Charleville Estate, where it has continued to thrive.
As next Sunday’s silver jubilee event approaches, show charman Rodney Cox thanked its sponsors, the public services, exhbitors, supporters and volunteers.
He paid particular tribute to the the main sponsor AIB, who is associated with the show for the 13th year.
“We are very fortunate to have a wonderful show site. We are ever grateful to Stephen and Ann Marie McQuade for this facility and to all landowners who facilitate us so generously.
“Last year, the weather was unfortunately very disappointing but our show was nonetheless a very successful event, testament to our hardworking stewards and helpers.
“This year we will be laying more trackway, along with making other improvements to enhance our site further,” he said.
Now in his final year as chairman, Mr Cox, said the show simply wouldn’t be feasible without hundreds of volunteers each year, primarily from the farming community, who give up their time to make sure everything runs smoothly.
“Everyone, from the executive committee to the parking stewards, buys into what it means to the local area. There’s a lot of pride and love behind making it a success, but a lot of hard work, as well.
“It’s a tribute to the can-do attitude and co-operative spirit of the farming community that we’re still here and growing after 25 years. I believe we’ll be saying the same thing for our 50th anniversary,” he said.
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