By Sarah Ruane
This year marked the 85th anniversary of the National Ploughing Championships which were held in Screggan, outside Tullamore in Co. Offaly. It’s difficult to comprehend how popular the event has become over the last few years, drawing in a record total of 283,000 attendees over the three days.
One of the most anticipated music festivals in Ireland, Electric Picnic, reeled in over 50,000 people to their sold out event, putting into perspective the appeal of the Ploughing Championships.
The tickets were sold at €20 per adult per day which is expensive considering you needed the three days to get around to the majority of the stalls. A relief was offered to families however, as children under the age of 12 were free of charge.
Food and drink, although plentiful in supply, were predictably overpriced, so packed lunches and flasks were the motto amongst a lot of farmers.
Once inside, the smell of hay and livestock filled your nostrils and the clunking of wellies beating off the wooden flooring drummed through your ears. Children stood each side of the path waving cattle rods in the air. “Rods five euro aye up, come and get them,” one young lad bellowed.
Looking around there really was something there for everyone. Makeup stations were set up for young women to get their makeup professionally looked after, which many would have flocked to after the lash of rain on Wednesday. A playground especially for young children allowed parents to let their young ones run rampant resulting in a quieter journey home. An enormous fun-fair for all the adrenaline junkies sat on the perimeters of the event, where a lot of the secondary school students liked to hang around.
There was also a fashion show, a vintage show, sheep shearing competitions, horse racing competitions and cooking demonstrations. You name it, the Ploughing Championships had it.
Today the event appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds, whether it be farmers or city slickers. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t any knowledge of farming because there are so many other distractions. The sheer happiness and buzz the event created was infectious.
Tractor football proved a popular form of entertainment this year, with many celebrities such as Marty Morrissey and Ryan Tubridy getting in on the gig. Four large tractors were centred in the middle of a field with a large plastic air-filled ball wedged in between them. A scoreboard with Laois on one side of it and Offaly on the other brought the competition to life and gave spectators someone to root for.
The livestock is always another big attraction with stalls set up for every breed of cow, sheep, pig and chicken. Top-notch bullocks were on offer as prizes if the dead weight could be guessed correctly. Award winning bulls were on show at each stall and merchandise could be purchased inside also. The best thing about the livestock section was looking at the reaction of some of the young children when they stood near these award winning bulls, their eyes fixated on the sheer size of the beasts.
The rugby-star Kearney brothers Rob and Dave worked alongside the National Dairy Council this year and undertook a celebrity appearance. The two brothers signed autographs and took pictures with fans, which seemed to be a tactic utilised by a lot of the stalls to draw larger crowds in.
On Wednesday evening when the rain landed, crowds rushed for the tents. I found myself in one called the Bridge House. Setting foot inside the tent felt like I was stepping into my local pub in Mayo. Traditional music thumped and I was shoulder to shoulder with people, the place was jammed. Shuffling my way to the front near the stage I could see the well-known trad-band “Ruaile Buaile” belting out tunes. People were linking arms and singing together, while others grabbed dancing partners for a quick twirl on the floor. The craic might I say was ninety and leaving the tent soon after I imagined the trouble the workers would have getting rid of people when it was time to close up.
Managing Director Anna May McHugh said the feedback to the event was extremely positive. She also paid tribute to the garda traffic management plan. “They kept traffic moving well to and from the site, particularly yesterday when many vehicles became stuck in the mud following afternoon rainfall,” she said.
#Ploughing16 was trending on Twitter and Facebook all week and thousands of people had updated their status or uploaded pictures, which shows the extent of how popular the event has become on social media this year.
And of course the winner of the ploughing event itself this year was Eamonn Treacy from Co. Carlow. This was Eamonn’s seventh consecutive win at the competition and shows his ambition and determination to win is still there. The National Ploughing Championships 2017 will be returning to Screggan in Tullamore, Co. Offaly next year.