Ploughing championships attracts its biggest ever crowd

Papal Nuncio describes the event as ‘absolutely terrific’

Mounted gardaí on duty yesterday on day two of the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska , Co Laois. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Mounted gardaí on duty yesterday on day two of the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska , Co Laois. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Another record was broken at the National Ploughing Championships today when it attracted its largest ever crowd of 124,500 people and got the seal of approval from the Papal Nuncio..

This compared with an attendance of 90,000 on the same day last year. With the record breaking first-day attendance of 82,000, this event is on course to be the most successful ploughing championships to date.

Traditionally the busiest of the three days, it was clear from early yesterday that the sunny day would draw a bumper attendance to Ratheniska, near Stradbally in Co Laois.

There was a queue of about 30 people at the ATMs at 9am, one hour after the gates had opened.

“People came in extremely early,” National Ploughing Association director Anna May McHugh said. “There were very long queues at the ticket offices.”

But she suggested the event may have reached its peak in terms of exhibitors. “I have seen it grow from 25 exhibitors up to 1,400 now. It’s something that I wouldn’t like to see getting any bigger,” she said.

“I would like to be able to keep it at that number and to give it the services that exhibitors and spectators need. We have achieved a fairly high standard and we’d like to maintain that but I believe if it gets any bigger then that might go out the door.”

She said the traffic was moving as well as possible, considering the number of cars being funnelled into the site.

“You will have the usual bit of delay...but when you go to Croke Park you have to sit in the car when you are coming out of Clonliffe College for example, which I often experience”.

The Ploughing Championships attracted many non-farming visitors yesterday, including the Papal Nuncio Charles Brown who said it was “absolutely terrific”.

“For someone from New York City I never thought I’d live a day to see such an amazing thing,” he said.

“So many happy faces, such an assortment of displays and people. It’s wonderful and beautiful.”

He said it encapsulated what he liked about Ireland. “This is what makes Ireland great, the rural culture, the farming culture. It’s a place where I feel very much at home.”

Appointed by the previous pope, Pope Benedict, he has spent two and a half years here but this was his first time to experience the ploughing.

“It’s quite different from skyscrapers, quite different from Manhattan, quite different from Dublin really. It’s a different world.”

He had been invited by Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin.

Asked what Pope Francis would make of the Ploughing, Archbishop Brown gave it the papal seal of approval by declaring: “He would love this”.

Bord Bia also introduced 11 Chinese buyers to the delights of the Ploughing this week.

The livestock, genetic and meat importers from Hebei province, near Beijing, will also visit Irish farms during their week-long visit.