Higgins hails ploughing 'celebration'
Thousands of patrons converged today on a 700-acre site near New Ross, Co Wexford, for the first day of the 2012 National Ploughing Championships.
Up to 180,000 people are expected to throng Heathpark over the next three days.
Machinery, livestock, food and fashion will be among the highlights of the event, which has become the largest of its kind in Europe. The site, which uses the farms of David O’Dwyer and Peter Kehoe, is about 10km east of New Ross.
Opening the event, President Michael D Higgins said the event represented “the rich tapestry of rural life”.
He had attended the championships many times and enjoyed every visit. “Indeed, growing up in Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co Clare I spent my formative years living on a small farm and was, very early on, aware of both the challenges and the joys of life in rural Ireland,” he said.
He was “almost pre-milking machine but I’m certainly pre most of the technology which you will see here in this wonderful exhibition”. The application of science and technology could be most readily seen in farming where the latest science was applied to breeding and the latest technology used in machinery.
He said the championships were "a great celebration of those who were not really affected by the speculative economy upon which the chapter is now closed. And they are people who are producing real things with real work and producing a huge proportion of our exports.”
The first inter-county ploughing contest took place in 1931 to settle an argument between two lifelong friends, Denis Allen of Gorey in Wexford and JJ Bergin of Athy, Co Kildare. Both men argued their respective counties had the best ploughmen.
Since then, the championships have grown from a small field of 26 acres to 700 acres of land.
Some 220 acres will be used for ploughing competitions, 80 for trade stands and exhibitions, 25 acres for demonstrations, with a massive 400 acre car park left for the 60,000 plus cars expected.
Motorists were warned this morning to take extra care after heavy rainfall and wind along the east coast, with spectators, exhibitors and competitors urged to dress for the weather. Long delays were reported from O'Hanrahans Bridge through New Ross and into Adamstown. It was also busy in Ballinaboola, according to AA Roadwatch.
The organisers have estimated that if a visitor spent a minute at every stand it would take 20 hours to get around the site. About 20km of metal walkways have been laid to keep visitors free from mud as they move around.
Caterers estimate 150,000 bottles of minerals and 50,000 cups of tea and coffee will be drunk, 15 tonnes of beef consumed, 22 tonnes of Irish potatoes will be used, and up to 25,000 breakfasts/breakfast rolls will be sold over the three days.
Patrons are advised to plan their route and to leave plenty of time for their journey as delays are anticipated on all approaches.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) will have an interactive shuttle and roll-over simulator at the event.
Supermarket chains Aldi, Lidl, Tesco and SuperValu will all be highlighting their locally produced food at the event.