Day one at the Ploughing: curried crickets and blinged-up wellies

President Michael D Higgins says his poetry is dominated by farming memories

Alison Healy reports from the 83rd National Ploughing Championships taking place on an 800 acre site in County Laois, featuring 390 competitors, 1400 stands and lots more. Video: Bryan O'Brien


If you feel like chewing on some crickets, blinging up your wellies or indulging in a spot of pole climbing then there is only one place to be this week.

The juggernaut that is the National Ploughing Championships has rolled into Ratheniska, Co Laois and it has overlooked nothing.

Want to save your soul? Get a free Bible and a cup of tea from the Free Presbyterians.

Save your water? Buy one of the many water-saving devices on sale.

Or save your sanity? Sit down and listen to the men and women of the Midlands Prison Officers’ Choir singing The Parting Glass.

You can buy all sorts of artisan foods and drinks here but you can also live on the wild side. There was a minor frenzy at Rentokil’s “pestaurant” where the company introduced insects as a food to a curious public. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, more than two billion people worldwide supplement their diet with insects, and Rentokil’s John Fitzgerald was keen to spread the news.

He recommended the water bugs. “Crispy on the outside, squidgy in the middle,” he said proffering one. This reporter feigned vegetarianism. RTÉ’s agriculture correspondent George Lee was braver, but maybe that’s because he survived a few months in the celebrity jungle known as the Dáil. Who wouldn’t feel like gnawing on a roasted locust after that?

Ivan Yates tried the water bug,” said Mr Fitzgerald. “We’ve had 3,000 or 4,000 people here already. They are flying out of here. Without the wings, of course.”

Marie Carberry from Keenagh, Co Longford gamely ate three insects to get a free scorpion lolly.

“I had the mealworms, the curried crickets and the plain roasted locust,” she said. “You’d try anything at the ploughing.”

Rugby players Rob and Dave Kearney were trying their hands at judging the Bling your Welly competition organised by the National Dairy Council.

A surprising number of young women entered and all seemed keen to get into a scrum with the Kearney brothers.

“Dave has always been a man for the pink,” said Rob as his brother selected Roza Harrison and her shocking pink wellingtons with bows on the back. Rob admired the effort the other winner, Edel McGuane, put into her entry.

She drew a tractor and plough on her striped wellies with a marker. Ms Harrison declared the win to be a life-changing moment and liked having Rob Kearney hold her ankle for the photograph.

But curried insects and wellies aside, it is the ploughing that draws many people to this championships and President Michael D Higgins waxed lyrical about the loy and the horse when he opened the event.

“Conventional and reversible, single, double and triple furrow ploughs,” he said, and it sounded like he was reciting one of his poems. “Junior and senior, vintage and horse ploughs.”

Mr Higgins spent his early years on a farm in Co Clare where his brother still farms. “When people are reading my poetry, they’ll see that the memories I have from the farming are in fact probably the dominating images of my first two decades,” he said.

Australian actor Russell Crowe is another fan of the Ploughing. The event was name-checked by the actor at the Noah premiere.

“You guys, you have the ploughing championships there in September,” the part-time farmer said to the Farmers Journal in what may have been the most bizarre exchange ever on a red carpet. What next? Tom Cruise coming here to talk about calf rations? Miley Cyrus displaying her restored Massey 35?

Anything could happen when it comes to the Ploughing.