Almost 60 years a ploughing and still going strong
‘I enjoyed my whole life. I enjoyed it all. I got up to do something that I wanted to do’
Edward Dowse: ‘Did I tell you I’m the team manager.’ Photograph: Laura Hutton/Collins
Ploughing is more than just an annual event, its a way of life, says 88-year-old Edward Dowse who ploughed for almost 60 years.
At the National Ploughing Championships in Carlow on Tuesday, Dowse sits on a chair by the side of the horse ploughing, with his cap on his head, his crutch by his side, and a sign with Wicklow – his home county – painted on it.
As he begins to cheer on and criticise the competitors, he says ploughing, for him, is like watching football for others.
“I’m the team manager over the horses. I’m not a competitor today,” he says. “Team manager means that when they’re not sure what to do, they come to me and I give them a little bit of advice. The teams come to me to make sure they’re doing it as well as they can. I help them.”
Dowse is a four time All-Ireland ploughing champion, having won the horse ploughing twice – in 1951 and 1953 – in the under-21 category, and twice more for tractor ploughing in 1977 and 1984.
He stopped competing after his fourth win, but didn’t stop ploughing. He farmed tillage, sheep and cattle on the 160 acres he owns in Kilcavan, outside Carnew in Co Wicklow.
“I had a great sheepdog as well to be able to do what I like with sheep, to control the sheep,” he recalls fondly. “All through life, I enjoyed my whole life. I enjoyed it all. I got up to do something that I wanted to do.”
Dowse attributes his many ploughing successes to the people he met along the way, but also his trusted plough, which he first bought in 1950 for £15. The machine in question was being used at the Championships on Tuesday by other competitors.
Despite the resilience of his own equipment, he describes the improvements in technology as “completely unbelievable”.
“I remember a blacksmith telling me that one of the best inventions that came out after the scythe and after the raking hoe, was the binder,” Dowse says.“Now, I go into a field and stand there in amazement.”
“First of all, you have a combine that’s 35ft wide and that’s controlled by one man. And then, you’ve a bailer behind that, controlled by one man as well. I remember years ago, when the square bales were out, you had to have two trailers and five or six men loading the square bales,” he adds.
While some things are changing, his love for ploughing most definitely isn’t one of them.
As he walks towards the shade to shelter from the sun, he turns with obvious pride: “Did I tell you I’m the team manager? The way the man is ploughing here today, he’s getting on well. He’s asking me for a bit of advice here today. I’ll help him.”