Dig In: The draw of straw at a scarecrow show
The All-Ireland Scarecrow Championship at Durrow, Co Laois, includes Mad Hatters and a runaway bride; a previous winner was inspired by Miley Cyrus
A scarecrow on duty in an Irish school garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston
Writing about scarecrows in the New York Times recently, the author Geoff Dyer described them as “Silent beings in dilapidated attendance . . . devoid of ego, they are at one with the earth and the sky and, by extension, all of creation.”
Dyer was reviewing an idiosyncratic autobiography, Some Thing Means Everything To Somebody, by the British photographer Peter Mitchell, in which he tells the story of his life through strangely poignant images of scarecrows that he photographed over a 40-year period.
Mitchell’s scarecrows stand forlornly in muddy English fields, squeezed into egg-yolk yellow raincoats or drab agricultural overalls that barely contain their straw-filled paunches, their stiff arms held outwards as if in frozen embrace of the rural landscape that surrounds them. There’s even a lady scarecrow bedecked incongruously in metallic tinsel, like a teenage majorette waiting in vain to join a passing parade.
The British photographer is not the only person to find these nearly human figures so oddly compelling. Here in Ireland, we have our very own All-Ireland Scarecrow Championship, which takes place in Durrow, Co Laois, every summer. Last year’s festival attracted more than 19,000 people while this year’s show, which kicks off tomorrow and continues until Monday, August 1st, has drawn entries from around the country, all competing for a share of the €3,000 prize fund.
In the last few days more than 100 scarecrows have made the journey to Durrow to be exhibited in its handsome 18th century village green alongside a further 100 scarecrows made by local people.
Head of operations at the show is Evelyn Clancy, chairwoman of Durrow Development Forum, who says this year’s festival will feature plenty of eccentric entries including “some Alice in Wonderland/ Mad Hatter-themed scarecrows, as well as a “runaway bride”.
Competition is always really stiff for the festival’s top prize of €500; winning entries over the years include a giant dinosaur scarecrow, scarecrow “Minions”, and a “Miley Silage” scarecrow – imagine a scarecrow version of Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball – images of which went viral on the internet.
It’s too late to submit an entry to this year’s event but there’s still just enough time to submit your potentially prize-winning scarecrow to the Doolin Musical Scarecrows competition, which draws on the town’s rich musical tradition. Hosted by Doolin Garden and Nursery in Ennis, Co Clare, the closing date is July 30th. See durrowscarecrowfestival.com and doolingarden.com