Giving It Welly
The Ploughing Championships are a great day out – just remember to dress for the occasion, writes SANDRA O'CONNELL
PLOUGHING HOLDS A special place in my heart. Not because I’ve ever done it, but because I used to stare out the classroom window at a farmer beetling around Bray Head in his tractor, wishing I was him, or one of the seagulls following him. Even today the idea that a field could be someone’s office seems amazing. Lucky sods.
For those of us who never ended up on the farm of their daydreams, there’s always the National Ploughing Championships. A great occasion to base a short break around, the gathering started out in the 1930s on foot of a dispute between two friends as to which county produced the best plough folk – Wexford or Kildare.
To find out, a contest took place in Athy, Co Kildare in 1931, over 26 acres. This year’s competition, in New Ross, Co Wexford, takes place over 700 acres, although more than half of those are devoted to car parking, another discipline that requires straight lines.
Almost 200,000 people are expected to visit the event which takes place from September 25th-27th, a Tuesday to a Thursday natch, while the rest of the world is cooped up in the office.
While there, visitors can peruse the goods and services of around 1,200 trade exhibitors. According to a survey of last year’s show, two-thirds those visiting will be male, with the most pronounced cohort aged between 40 and 50.
While machinery exhibits are the main reason most farmers attend, for the non-farmer these are unquestionably the most boring. Much more fun is to be had at the tented trade village, which features crafts, artisan food and cookery demonstrations, health and lifestyle products, home and garden items, plus sports and leisure goods.
There’s fashion too, with three fashion shows a day lined up. There are also “most appropriately dressed” competitions for both men and women. Indeed, the npa.iewebsite is currently exhorting visitors to come and display their “designer willies”, though I’m pretty sure that’s a typo.
There is, of course, ploughing, with 330 competitors lined up to undertake all sorts of challenges, from conventional to three furrow reversible ploughing. There are vintage tractor ploughing contests, traditional horse ploughing competitions and even loy digging – done manually with a spade.
Don’t miss the livestock exhibitions or the sheep dog trials, which are always amazing, particularly if you own a dog that can’t even manage toilet training. There are fun novelty events too, including Husqvarna’s (it’s a brand of garden equipment) Irish Axe Factor, a pole-climbing display.
There’s a Sustainable Suckling area, which sounds like something run by La Leche League, all the fun and mayhem of Pony Club games, plus a hunt chase and vintage threshing displays.
Being the Ploughing Championships, there will be mud, but that’s not going to stop anyone’s gallop. Despite, or perhaps because of the 2:1 male to female ratio, there’ll be plenty of dancing at the bandstand, in front of which dancing boards are being laid. Expect quite a bit of country’n’ Irish, as well as entertainment from local and traditional musicians.
If you’re wondering what to wear, don’t. It’s all denim and baseball caps, typically named for farm machinery.
If the Ploughing Championships put you in mind of a holiday down on the farm, there are plenty of great options to choose from. This is because in recent years, when farming was considered unsexy by financiers, diversification was the order of the day. It’s why so many farms are now also petting zoos and golf courses.
It is also why, despite the recent flight of finance back to traditional businesses that lenders actually understand, very many farms now provide onsite holiday accommodation. Not so much dude ranches as food ranches, they offer suburban souls a chance to get back to the land.
A perfect option for the farmer manqué in you, some will let you feed the animals and help with the milking. Not sure any would let you plough fields, but you can certainly walk them, daydreaming that one day all of this should have been yours.