Town and country meet at feast of rural life

IT was a midsummer feast of country life in which Bruce Springsteen, a sheep shearer, a wool spinner and even Arnie the Pig played various roles.

The sprawling 30-hectare Mellows College campus in Athenry, Co Galway, was the venue for Farmfest and BioEnergy ’08, which attracted an estimated 30,000 visitors in glorious sunshine yesterday.

More than 400 exhibitors showcased all aspects of Ireland’s ever changing rural life across tented villages and outdoor exhibition spaces.

Some 1,000 children were booked into the event from schools, including many in urban centres. And that’s how the pig, the shearer and spinner had an educational role to play.

They were on a mobile farm in a dedicated children’s area, the Kidz Zone Pagoda, helping to explain farming life and the source of food. The lambing season, the effects of climate change and spring growth were all explained.

Bruce Springsteen was not present, but Ralph Haslam, Mossfield Organic Cheese, Birr, Co Offaly, whose products tickled the singer’s taste buds during his recent visit to Ireland, was one of the exhibitors.

Ralph, who is exporting award-winning Mossfield products to the US, Japan and Britain, said Springsteen’s chef came into a shop in Dublin and bought some of the cheese. He returned on two other occasions for further rushed orders for The Boss.

Meanwhile, farmers had access to 21 computer points in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food stand to track and review their scheme payments on the spot.

Even the Revenue Commissioners were on hand with their own exhibits, while sliothar hitters, the latest equipment in the coaching of hurling and camogie, were demon-strated by Egan’s of Belmont, Co Offaly.

“I want chocolate and I want it now,” was the slogan on one stand, and not far away there was helpful advice from the Irish Patents Office that one of the seven deadly sins of inventors is not keeping their ideas secret.

Glorious weather helped attract the huge crowds to the site, through which 15 trains passed each way between Galway and Dublin, making the jobs of the level crossing stewards the most onerous of all.

Everything went without mishap as the crowds tasted organic food, learned about bioenergy, and absorbed advice on the future of farming, diversification and farm enterprise.

But there was also plenty of good humour about, some of it supplied by a man who travelled to Athenry from Kerry with a classic explanation for footballer Paul Galvin’s actions in knocking the notebook out of referee Paddy Russell’s hands in Killarney last Sunday.

“Sure he was only getting rid of a wasp that had landed on the notebook.”


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