The cows come home for bovine beauty pageant


THE PROCESSION of tasty things began at 8.30am. A parade of determined-looking women came armed with the finest sponges, boiled fruit cakes and plum jam. They were competing for a coveted red rosette at the Virginia Show. While the Co Cavan event is best known for the Baileys Champion Cow Competition, it has also seen a resurgence in interest in its home industries competitions.

There are classes for everything here, from the longest carrot to the best specimen of handwriting. Some entrants were drawn to classes for the best pointed-head cabbage and the best ball-head type cabbage.

People who felt their turf was particularly pleasing entered their six best sods while others tried their luck in the best quality grazing grass – not to exceed 30sq cm. The squares of grass were laid out neatly in the hall, not a grain of soil out of place.

There was even a class reserved for a unique category of people. Class 289 was for “a selection of three vegetables confined to someone who has never won a prize in this section at Virginia Show, from within 10 miles’ radius of Virginia”.

Spectators were banned from the hall as the judges did their work but people peered through gaps in the barrier anyway. As chief steward in the bread section, John Smith was keeping order and preventing bun fights from breaking out over who had the best currant cake.

Home economics teacher Siobhán Corrie had the onerous task of tasting each item as she judged the bread and cakes.

Do people ever get aggrieved, insisting their four afternoon tea scones deserved first prize? “You’ll always have a few people, I suppose. Everyone thinks their own is the best or they wouldn’t be entering,” she said.

Show catalogues were sold out by lunchtime and overall the entries were up by 65 per cent, according to show spokeswoman Kathleen Duffy. “Some of the shows were cancelled and with the summer being so bad young people had to do something. Even the hen entries are up.”

But the bantam hens had to fight for attention when the red carpet came out for the Baileys Champion Cow Competition. This is the bovine version of the Rose of Tralee but the Roses were never primped and preened as much as these females.

Gary Hurley from Arklow was watching one of his cows, Clonpaddin GWY Fanta, being clipped. She slightly arched her tail and immediately a bucket was held behind her as she relieved herself. Keeping the cows clean once they had been shampooed was crucial, he explained.

Another cow, Clonpaddin GKS Fame, was slightly sunburned and he had applied aloe vera to soothe the skin. “We use powder to bring up the white bits,” he said. “We spray on alcohol on the black bits to get a nice shine – and we drink whatever’s left over.”

He deserved a little tipple last night, as one animal won the heifer in milk award and the other took second in the dry cow award.

Derek Frawley from Limerick also had two cows in the competition and stayed up half the night with them in the cow tent to ensure that they did not lie in anything unsavoury and ruin their coats. He, too, stood ready with a bucket.

Any chance a rival would sabotage a cow’s chances by slipping a Mickey Finn into her bucket of water in the dead of night? “Ah no, we’re only enemies when we get into the ring,” Frawley said. “We help each other out. Some go to bed for a few hours and we watch their cows.” And it was all worth it as his cow Ridgefield Dundee Portea won the €2,000 top prize. The paparazzi surrounded her before you could say “moo”. She chewed the cud nonchalantly as they snapped.

“No one knew until the end which way it was going, which was really exciting,” Mr Frawley said afterwards.

But what gave Portea the edge over the others? He thought for a moment before declaring: “I think it was the overall balance and fore udder attachment.” And the bucket of course.