Brown bread making, an address from the President and the beginning of the ploughing proper are among the highlights of the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Co Laois, on Tuesday.
Politicians including Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien are in attendance at the festival expected to draw more than 300,000 people. Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and Labour leader Ivana Bacik are also expected to attend.
Michael D Higgins was also expected to give a speech to officially open the event on Tuesday.
But competitive events and fun on the sidelines also abound outside the politics. Here’s what to expect on Tuesday.
“It’s absolutely ploughing weather,” says Anna Marie McHugh, assistant managing director of the National Ploughing Association (NPA), who said “wellies and raincoats” should not be forgotten. The worst conditions are expected on Tuesday, with Met Éireann forecasting a damp day and a “wet and windy” night.
What follows looks like more of a mixed bag, but the NPA says it has done much to prepare for as comfortable a festival as possible since last Friday’s on-site deluge. “We’ve had to do a lot of remedial works,” says McHugh. “We’ve had tankers in, we’ve had sweepers in, all of that. It’s not a venue for runners this year, it’s one of those years [for] wellies.”
Status yellow wind and rain warnings were issued by Met Éireann for 15 counties, with flooding possible on the west coast from Tuesday morning.
While road conditions may be poor in many counties, Laois is likely to escape the worst of the wind and rain. However, conditions were already muddy early on Tuesday.
9am-6pm: Former RTÉ journalist Ciarán Mullooly will be signing copies of his new book, The Future is Now, on rural development, life after RTÉ and the Just Transition, at Block 2, Row 25, Stand 382.
9.30am: The national brown-bread baking semi-final commences at the Aldi stand in Block 1, Row 23, Stand 352.
10am-4pm: Pony club games take place at Gate 13.
10.30am-12am: The National Symphony Chorus directed by David Young, Athy Sing and Sign Club, and Ballet Barn Carlow perform at bandstand Block 3, Row 29, Stand 447.
10.30am-2.30pm: Although the National Ploughing Championships can appear to be about everything except the ploughing, the championship begins with the Furrow conventional senior and junior classes and goes on until 2.30pm.
11am: Wild Workers will do a Q&A on the Wild Work co-operation project. The public will get a chance to see their virtual reality headsets to immerse themselves in an authentic biodiversity experience.
12pm: President Michael D Higgins will officially open the 92nd championship at the bandstand, Block 3, Row 29, Stand 447.
12.30pm: TV presenter Hector Ó hEochagáin is appearing at the Equuip Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) marquee where he will have guests from the world of racing. The show will be repeated at 2.30pm on Tuesday and Wednesday. He’s available at Block 4, Row 19, Stand 319.
2pm: Farmfluencer Farmer Phil will be appearing at the Herdwatch stand at Block 3, Row 11, Stand 204. Farmer Phil, from Longford, has almost 80,000 followers on YouTube and many of his videos go viral.
2.30pm: Laois Trad Orchestra and Music Generation at the Bandstand, Block 3, Row 29, Stand 447.
2.30pm: The national brown-bread baking semi-final winners will be announced.
6pm: The ploughing championship results are announced from the Bandstand, Block 3, Row 29, Stand 447.
Organisers say those travelling to the event should book ahead, though €30 entry tickets can be bought on the day, provided online sales have led to a sell-out. Those booking through the website can potentially secure discounts and group rates, with prices falling to as low as €15 for students in certain cases.
Daily crowds could range from 70,000 to potentially more than last year’s single-day record of 115,000 people. The weather will likely be a factor for attendances, though this year’s arena space is also larger.
How to get there
With 202 hectares of the 323-hectare event site being allocated to cars, event organisers are appealing to people to carpool if they have not already considered it. The site can fit a lot of vehicles – roughly 175 per acre – but much of that space will be kept as overflow or in reserve. For those travelling a good distance, it is worth noting that there are no EV charging points on offer.
Bus Éireann is running feeder services from Athy, Portlaoise and Portarlington train stations, while hundreds of coaches will ferry visitors from all corners of the island to Ratheniska, which is hosting for a second successive year.
The main event
It’s not The Ploughing without the ploughing. This year about 350 people will participate in 24 national competitions. As a reflection of the evolution of ploughing – the NPA was established in 1931 – the competitions range from the most modern reversible ploughs right back to the horse-drawn variety. Event winners are announced each evening on the bandstand, all leading to the ultimate All-Ireland prizes and the announcement of who goes forward to represent Ireland internationally.
Everything, basically. Arguably the greatest attraction of the ploughing is the sheer variety of things to see and do. To prevent disorientation, there is a free interactive guide for smartphones to steer attendees through this year’s event site using GPS and a search function to help navigate its 1,700 stands. A handy “find my car” feature should help to minimise the amount of time spent traipsing through mud at the end of the day.
Local enterprise village
More than 30 small businesses from across Ireland will feature in this year’s Local Enterprise Village. A mix of entrepreneurial talent, it will highlight operators and products ranging from children’s clothing and games, to artisan food and drink producers, to sustainable fashion and beauty products.
The Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena will feature more than 50 Irish agritech companies, all of whom had to apply and qualify for a table at the party. This year’s applicants include start-ups operating for fewer than five years as well as their more established peers. “That can be anything from ag-tech machinery to developments in different equipment that can be used on farms,” says McHugh. “There is mentoring involved and there is quite significant financial awards as well. What’s quite important is ... there’s lot of business leads created.” Competition categories include the ACE Agritech award and the IFAC best newcomer award. The best start-up winner will receive €10,000.
A number of “massive” marquees offer most things imaginable to festival attendees. Food and drink, household wares, lifestyle products and even financial advice will be on offer in a sprawling area comprising hundreds of stands. Such is its scale, one of the more frequently asked questions fielded by organisers is what to do should you get lost. “Literally it’s an exhibition on its own up there,” says McHugh, “it’s a huge show within a show.”
Not for the farm
There are plenty of oddities peppered around the vast festival grounds. On Wednesday, Macra na Feirme has its eyes on the prize, hoping to break the Guinness World Records feat of throwing more than 800 wellies in the one place at the one time. Engineers Ireland will be on site with an ice-cream serving robot and a cyclone machine. Anybody who feels they have watched too much ploughing might be tempted by sheep shearing competitions and fashion shows, or even a spot of threshing. Motor shows, a funfair, machinery demonstrations and livestock displays are all a part of the annual festivities.