'It’s wonderful to be back': Sights and sounds galore at National Ploughing Championships

After a three-year Covid-enforced break, atendees at the National Plaoughing Championships are making up for lost time.
'It’s wonderful to be back': Sights and sounds galore at National Ploughing Championships

Watching the ploughing were Greg, Conor, and Senan Byrne, Dublin, at the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Co Laois. Picture: Dan Linehan

The old adage that the National Ploughing Championships isn’t just for farmers remains true.

Amid the latest agricultural technologies and inventions were the most random and fantastical stalls. 

You could buy a stone horse and car ornament for €899, if you can fit the chunky thing in the boot. 

What else would you come to the ploughing for?

Country music rode a wave of "Garthmania" into the agricultural festival, and sure enough, couples were out in force at the bandstand, dancing their wellies off.

 Gerry Byrne, Louth, having fun while taking part in the vintage 2 furrow mounted plough class. Picture: Dan Linehan
Gerry Byrne, Louth, having fun while taking part in the vintage 2 furrow mounted plough class. Picture: Dan Linehan

Across 900 acres of fields of Ratheniska, Co Laois, it’s the memorable characters from across the country that make this "culchie Christmas" an unforgettable outing.

Local man John Hendy rocked up in his Ford Model T — giving the old banger a testing spin. 

Usually at the ploughing, when you see a crowd suddenly gathered, you can just about make out some mobbed politician talking about why their party is the one to free farmers from their proletariat slumber. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin with Ploughing Championships chiefAnna May McHugh, TD Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, and minister of State Seán Fleming at Ratheniska, Co Laois. Picture: Dan Linehan
Taoiseach Micheál Martin with Ploughing Championships chiefAnna May McHugh, TD Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, and minister of State Seán Fleming at Ratheniska, Co Laois. Picture: Dan Linehan

But in one case, it took one man a cardboard box, a cloth, and three playing cards to relieve passers-by of €50. 

He must have made close to €400 in a few minutes of action.

There was a man on almost every corner shouting above the crowds: “Shticks for sale! One for €4 or three for a tenner!” 

This particular make of walking stick was in nearly every other hand, making it seem almost like people were attending a weird walking stick festival.

Crowds at the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Co Laois. Picture: Dan Linehan
Crowds at the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Co Laois. Picture: Dan Linehan

A distinctive voice then stood out among the hundreds of thousands, 88-year-old Carrie Acheson, who makes the announcements on the loudspeakers. 

Dressed quite glamorously in pink, she said that “it’s wonderful to be back” after a three-year Covid-enforced break.

“Years ago, we were in Wexford, and it turned very wet,” she said. 

Everyone went into the hotel and the sheds started falling apart, everything was falling asunder. I was asked to do the public address for the storms, and I’ve been doing it ever since.” 

Children and teenagers seemed to overrun the fields. 

With the sheer volume of school-going children in attendance, perhaps it should be called the National Mitching Championships. 

You’d wonder if there was anyone in a classroom across the country this week.

The Barry and Knowles families travelled locally from Laois, and the half dozen 9-to-11-year-olds said how chuffed they were to visit their first ploughing and get the day off school. 

“We like the free stuff!” they boasted, showing off pens, pencils, and balloons. No complimentary combine harvesters though — maybe next year.

A staple of the annual farmer frenzy is the most appropriately dressed man and woman competition, organised by the National Countrywoman’s Association. It’s like the Rose of Tralee, but only half an hour long and full of agriculture enthusiasts.

 Sisters Amber and Tegan Brady Shankey, Kells. Picture Dan Linehan
Sisters Amber and Tegan Brady Shankey, Kells. Picture Dan Linehan

Winning on the men’s side was Scotsman Gavin Clark, president of Cistercian College Roscrea. He took his second-year boys out for the day, who ended up cajoling him to put his name forward. Dressed in a sharp suit and tie, his competitors never stood a chance.

Away from the chaos of Europe’s largest pop-up town, one of the horse ploughing competitors told the crowd he had Persian horses. 

When asked if they were a breed particularly strong for ploughing, he joked: “No, but they’re quite good for eating… Good for sangwidges!” 

On a packed train back to Cork, there was a mixture of ‘Fields of Athenry’ and ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ being belted out between carriages.

A sure sign of a good day out.

More in this section

Lunchtime
News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up
Revoiced
Newsletter

Some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up
Execution Time: 0.215 s