President keeps it real in the rain as he pays tribute to Irish farming


HE MIGHT have turned up without his wellies, but President Michael D knew his audience. As the rain leaked into every human crevice, cascaded off umbrellas, lashed into the side of the bandstand and virtually drowned the New Ross Pipe Band, the President spoke to their sense of self. He took the word “real” as his key word and wrapped it around them emphatically and repeatedly.

It was real. Having witnessed your car being heaved out of a mud crater by the sweat of Kevin from Tracey Concrete and Robbie O’Leary from Nenagh, only to sink again up the hill and watch it being yoked up to Liam Dunne’s tractor and being pulled – backwards, mind – out of mud carnage, while the driver is told to “lock, lock, no the other way, is your handbrake on, take your foot off the brake” by a man running alongside, it starts to feel a bit like a particularly sadistic scene from City Slickers.

Did we mention all the “lock, lock” stuff was being done while being towed backwards?

“It’s only four o’clock. Imagine what it’ll be like for all them in a couple of hours,” wailed a little Meath man gesturing at all the other cars with their unsuspecting owners still back at the exhibition stands, caressing massive combine harvesters or a nice Charollais sheep. “Sure didn’t we pull you out? We’ll pull them out too,” was the cheerful retort.

The President was right. Farmers are real. He remembered having to pull Jack Wall’s car out after a ploughing championship, so he’s been there.

What farmers did was “real product, real work, real exports . . . compared to the bygone “speculative economy – upon which the chapter is now closed”, he said.

This was one of his favourite events, “because everything in it is real, everything in it is important, and everything in it is enormously human”. On the way down, there had been talk about what the weather would be like.

“Well, as most of those in farming know, something you can’t do much about is the weather – and you have to face it every single day. Whereas those of us who are occasionally coming down like this have just the one day to put up with.”

Too true. The crowd loved him, especially when he said that when people coming from abroad were asked where in Ireland do they see science and technology applied more quickly or with greater effect, the answer was “Irish farming”. That got a big clap.

Last year he was just a presidential candidate wandering around the stands and Martin McGuinness was the man hoovering up the attention and media vigilance. This year McGuinness was the man wandering unhindered around the stands, while President Higgins was ushered hither and thither, down to the ploughing and about half a dozen carefully chosen stands – Macra na Feirme, IFA, the ICMSA, Foróige and the Irish Organic Farmers Association, posing for photographs with punters, in his tweed cap, Bugatti overcoat and good, strong shoes that were not wellies.

Meanwhile, the usual insanely eclectic series of activities around the ploughing barrelled on. Gangs of hyper adolescents, on a free day from school, roamed around, splatting one another with mud (the boys), singing or laughing hysterically (the girls), scoffing freebies or stuffing them into the distinctive yellow bags being handed out in the jammed Done Deal tent.

Adults sought refuge where they could from the rain and the mud. Tea and Rich Tea biscuits in the Fine Gael tent? Or tea only in the Fianna Fáil tent and a chance to win a pottery prize for filling out a “policy suggestion” survey?

Surrender to the man loudly proclaiming “Free diabetes screening – absolutely free”? Have a foot scan or a hearing test? Chat to someone about joining a Carmelite monastery or settle for the Legion of Mary? Consult Pimp Your Pooch for all your doggy needs or relax with a calving camera – yours for just €350?

“That’s a hoor of a queue in there,” said a big farmer emerging from the heaving Aldi marquee, to his waiting wife left to mind the walking sticks – essential equipment apparently, usually sold in threes and fours – and the bags outside.

“Not even a bit of aul’ ice cream?” she demanded suspiciously. He could have got free cake (he did, he was wiping away the crumbs) or little salad samples or a Bewley’s coffee for her, or he could have told her the tastings were going to start again in 10 minutes. He grunted that he needed to see a man about a bull.

Then again, those tastings really did attract a real hoor of a queue.

“People go insane,” said Orla of Aldi, with a grin. “Apparently no one in Wexford has ever eaten before.” It was possibly the pole- climbing (serious 105ft poles), or that axe-work in the Husqvarna arena, where lads chopped niches in thick, tall standing logs, stuck a length of timber into the niche, then balanced on the timber while hacking off the top of the log.

Around the machine stands, the usual candidates – anything massive with huge tyres or some class of stain remover demonstrated by a chap with machine-gun patter – were gathering the fans.

A 28-year-old Limerick forklift driver lovingly patted a big forklift. “Nice isn’t it? It’s a three- tonne. Wish the boss’d buy me one.”

Jim Doyle was looking at chainsaws with his son Adam (16). A glass cutter made redundant at 49 from Waterford Glass two years ago, Jim is building a new career in greens and park maintenance and this was his first ploughing outing.

“There’s a bit of a buzz about the place,” he said happily, pun probably not intended, as the notes of a choral society singing Glory Glory Hallelujah drifted across from the bandstand and the rain pelted down.

It was real.