Ploughing: Almost 80,000 turn out for day one of event
President Higgins praises rural highlight as World Ploughing chief marvels at scale
Ploughing Championships: Sunshine and horse power at the national event in Ratheniska, Co Laois. Photograph: The Irish Times
President Michael D Higgins is not one to evoke divine intervention too often, but he managed a wry smile when seeing the ranks of clergy lined up beside him on the podium while opening the National Ploughing Championships.
Mr Higgins noted the bright weather for the opening day of the championships which is being held for the third and last time at Ratheniska, Co Laois.
He wondered aloud if the presence of the papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown and the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Denis Nulty, among others, might have something to do with the dry start, and to the good weather promised for the following days.
The President visited the ploughing competition, which is the whole point of the championships, though it sometimes feels like an afterthought, and also the Foróige time travel garden designed with the help of Diarmuid Gavin and sponsored by Aldi.
“I like the sense of reality of it all. There are relaxed people here who are able to take their time in understanding what is the most important thing in life,” he said. “I look forward to the time that I can spend a couple of days to see all that is on display.”
The ploughing takes place in a field next to the amusements.
On one side there is conventional ploughing and on the other the reversible ploughing. The tractors and ploughs make a stately procession up and down the rows as the judges look on.
To the uninitiated, it all looks the same.
The site is so big that tethered balloons mark the spots where the exits and car parks are. You could spend all day looking for your car. Many people do.
Some 77,500 turned up for the first day of the championships, slightly down on the 82,000 who turned up last year. The chairman of World Ploughing Tugomir Majdak visited and was incredulous at the size of it all. “We couldn’t even organise a world event as big as this,” he said.
Even the French ploughing championships, in Europe’s biggest agricultural country, only attracts 100,000 visitors a year, he added.
Politicians were thin on the ground because of the confidence motion in the Dáil, but one who did make it was the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan who is a local TD. He was happy to pose with a lifesize portrait of himself in the Fine Gael tent. “Talk to Charlie,” it said and lots were willing to oblige.
The Fine Gael tent also includes a lifesize portrait of Michael Collins.
Another lifesize portrait much in demand was that of Marty Morrissey in the RTÉ tent. The public queued to have their photograph taken with it and better still with the man himself when he was not on air. “He’s not as good looking as me obviously,” Morrissey said of his Doppelgänger.
The Rose of Tralee Elysha Brennan visited the championships for the first time and was stopped regularly for photographs. “I was meant to come in sixth year because I did agricultural science, but I don’t think I got around to it because I was sick. Everybody told me it was going to be packed, but I didn’t expect this.”
Are you heading along to the second day of the National Ploughing Championships? Tweet @irishtimes with any news or pics