Clouds lift for farming festival's final day


A CHALLENGING week for the National Ploughing Championships ended on a high yesterday with sunshine and strong crowds at Heathpark, New Ross.

Bad weather and heavy traffic put a damper on the first two days of the three-day farming event but it still attracted 187,500 people. Some 64,000 of those visited the site yesterday.

Anna Marie McHugh of the National Ploughing Association said it had been a tough week for everybody because of the weather. “Tough going, but we are very gratified that we are on the third day now and the sun is still shining and that hopefully the majority of people are going away happy.” She offered her “sincere apologies” to people affected by heavy traffic and said organisers and gardaí had worked tirelessly to move people on as quickly as possible.

Asked if the ploughing championships would return to New Ross next year she said: “It’s an option, it’s certainly an option.” It had not been discussed with the landowners yet. “There’s also two or three other venues that we are seriously considering for next year and the year after.” Ms McHugh said she hoped to announce venues for next year and 2014 within the next two months.

Despite the recession it was a good event for one exhibitor who sold a combine harvester for €450,000 on Wednesday. Some 24 ploughing competitions involving more than 330 competitors were held over the three days.

Among yesterday’s horse ploughing competitors was 80-year-old Edward Dowse from Carnew, Co Wicklow, who was thought to be the oldest competitor at the championships. “No one has contradicted me anyway,” he said. “My father started me at the ploughing with the horses when I was 14.” He first competed at the National Ploughing Championships in Bandon in 1950.

“It’s a great honour to have the health and strength to compete today. I’ve never been in hospital in my life, except to visit someone.”

Huge crowds gathered around Taoiseach Enda Kenny when he visited the site yesterday. He said the championships were “an extraordinary event” that involved an extraordinary list of logistics.

“This traces the evolution of agriculture over the years here, and from the humble one-furrow plough to the combine selling at almost half a million it shows you the scale and the change of the agri-sector over the years,” he said.

He also paid tribute to RTÉ’s Joe O’Brien who was covering his last ploughing championships after 24 years working as agriculture correspondent. He will take early retirement from the State broadcaster next month. Making a presentation to the journalist on behalf of the National Ploughing Association, Mr Kenny said he was “a credit to the agri-sector for the objectivity and the diligence that he showed in reporting issues about agriculture both at home and abroad”.

Earlier the Taoiseach visited the SuperValu stand and welcomed the announcement of contracts worth more than €80 million with 104 Irish suppliers. SuperValu managing director Martin Kelleher said the contracts were part of the supermarket chain’s strategy to source Irish wherever possible and to reinvest in the Irish economy. The contracts include suppliers of free range eggs, mineral water, ice cream, sausages, cheese and yogurts.

“Shoppers want to buy Irish whenever possible and our Irish sourcing policy helps to ensure the continued success of the indigenous food industry,” he said. “The simple, but important point for the Irish economy is that buying local products in locally owned businesses keeps money circulating closer to where you spend it. This creates a ripple effect, as those businesses and their employees in turn spend in the community.”