THE Army will today erect a bailey bridge across the Grand Canal in Athy, Co Kildare, to facilitate pedestrian access to the site of the three-day National Ploughing Championships, which begin tomorrow.
The bridge will form part of a huge traffic plan by the gardaí to ensure that upwards of 180,000 people can travel to and from the rural showpiece with the minimum of delay.
More than 150 gardaí, backed up by a helicopter, the mounted unit and an onsite control centre, will implement the plan. Some 500 stewards from the National Ploughing Association (NPA) will also be on duty.
President Mary McAleese will officially open the event tomorrow, with the North’s agriculture minister Michelle Gildernew also in attendance.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Dermot Earley are among the invited guests.
Rose of Tralee Charmaine Kenny, a native of Athy, will also attend the noon ceremony, with an Army band performing.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith, opposition leaders and members of the diplomatic corps will visit over the three days.
NPA press officer Anna Marie McHugh said ground conditions at the 600-acre site are excellent after the recent fine weather.
Some 300 ploughing competitors will be in action at the championships and practically all infrastructure, including nearly 1,000 trade stands, is now in place on the Fennin family farm, with land for car parking also provided by other local farmers.
Ms McHugh urged as many people as possible to leave their vehicles at home and travel to the event by public transport.
Athy was the venue for the first championships in 1931. They cost just over £9 to organise, while the budget for this week’s event is expected to exceed €3.5 million and will be worth an estimated €25m to the region’s economy.
Supt John Murphy appealed to the public to heed event signage and follow the directions of gardaí and stewards when arriving and leaving parking sites.
Each traffic route has been separately colour-coded to aid the travelling public and some routes will have one-way systems close to the car parks to aid entry and exit. Residents affected by these systems have been issued with special passes.
Parking restrictions will be in place on all approaches to the event, which is 1km from Athy town on the Stradbally Road.
Park and ride facilities will be available, with a shuttle bus service at 15-minute intervals.
Parking and traffic delays are inevitable, say gardaí, who advise patrons to plan their routes and consult the traffic plans.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved