More than 200,000 ‘going to the Ploughing’ for 83rd event

Visitors last year spent almost €36.5 million during three-day championships


There’s only one question being asked in farming circles this week: “Are you going to the Ploughing?” The annual pilgrimage to the National Ploughing Championships gets under way this morning and more than 200,000 people are expected to visit the 800-acre site at Ratheniska, near Stradbally, Co Laois, before the event ends on Thursday.

President Michael D Higgins will formally open the championships at noon. Met Éireann has predicted a mainly dry week and, as it is hosting one of the more than 1,400 stands at the event, it will be hoping that this turns out to be case.

This is the 83rd ploughing championships and it is a far cry from the first event which took place in Athy in 1931 and cost nine pounds, three shillings and five pence to run. Last year, visitors to the championships spent almost €36.5 million during the three-day event, which was held at the same venue. This figure is expected to be higher this year because of the increase in the number of stands and improving consumer sentiment.

More than 300 people will take part in the ploughing competitions including World Ploughing Championships gold medal winner Eamonn Tracey and bronze medal winner John Whelan. A further 30 competitors from 10 countries have entered in the European Vintage Ploughing Championships, which are also taking place at the site.

Organisers have laid 26km of tracks around the site, doubling the width of the walkways in front of stands to make it easier to move around.

If the ploughing, cattle and sheep exhibitions and machinery displays do not interest everyone, there is also a packed programme of non-farming events. Fashion shows, demonstrations from celebrity chefs, brown bread-baking competitions and craft demonstrations are expected to attract thousands of visitors.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will visit the site on Thursday while Labour Party leader Joan Burton will be pressing the flesh tomorrow. Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has a packed diary of engagements tomorrow and is expected to come under pressure from cattle farmers unhappy with beef prices.

Gardaí have repeated their plea to motorists to follow one of six main access routes. They will be all clearly signposted with “Ploughing” signage. Traffic from Cork and parts of Munster travelling on the M8 should exit at Junction 4, signposted for Johnstown and Urlingford.

Traffic from Dublin, Leinster and the north of the country travelling southbound on the M7 should exit at Junction 15. Motorists will be directed towards Vicarstown and Stradbally. Traffic from Limerick, Kerry and the southwest travelling on the M7 will be asked to exit at Junction 17 and continue towards Portlaoise town.

Traffic travelling from the west on the N80 will be directed through Mountmellick town as far as Emo, before heading towards Portlaoise. Traffic from the southeast and Carlow will travel through Simmons Mill crossroads on the N80 and continue towards Stradbally via the Windy Gap. Traffic from Kilkenny travelling along the N78 will be asked to turn left at Newtown crossroads and continue to Timahoe where traffic will be diverted to one of two routes. Parking will be in 25 colour-coded car parks which will have airborne blimps to help people find their vehicles.

Bus Éireann is running a shuttle bus service from Portlaoise and Portarlington train stations, operating to suit train times. The drop-off point is near the gates entering the purple car park