Ploughing championships welcome record-breaking crowd
Higgins opens ‘Olympics of the land’ and praises farms as ‘backbone’ of rural communities
The National Ploughing Championships enjoyed a record first-day attendance as almost 100,000 people descended on the Co Offaly site on Tuesday.
The figure is significantly up on last year when 77,000 people attended the first day of the event. The record-breaking attendance was confirmed by the National Ploughing Association head Anna May McHugh.
The 85th annual championships at the site in Screggan, Tullamore, Co Offaly was officially opened by President Michael D Higgins. As Europe’s largest outdoor exhibition, it features 1,700 exhibitors on the almost 800-acre site.
National Ploughing Association chairman PJ Lynam said “if you went to every stand and spent one minute at it, it would take you five working days, it has got that big”. He praised the gardaí, Offaly County Council, local residents and landowners for their assistance and understanding.
Praising those involved in the championships, Mr Higgins described the three-day event as the “Olympics of the land” and said the event was “an enduring testimony to this vibrancy of our farming sector”.
He used the occasion to highlight the difficulties facing farmers and to emphasise the importance of rural Ireland. Mr Higgins described family farms as “the backbone of our rural communities” and said “they must be enabled to prosper for generations to come.” However he said “we have arrived at a critical juncture when this is far from guaranteed.”
“Throughout Europe, there has been a general drift from the land since the early 1960s. The farming population is ageing at a very alarming pace, farms are becoming bigger and fewer. The challenges facing our farmers are many, and they are well-known to those who attend ‘the ploughing’,” he remarked.
“Farm life, farm communities, rural society, are not just sectors like any other, producing commodities for the market. They need to be sustained with robust public policies, good planning, as well as targeted and adequate incentives,” said Mr Higgins.
“We need no less, then, than a renewed vision for the future of Irish and European family farming,” he told the gathering.
Mr Higgins said “there can be no vibrant rural communities without thriving family farms. We must, as a society, ensure that our farming men and women are enabled to continue to carry out what is one of the most ancient, one of the most important and beautiful human activities on earth: the tending of the land and the cultivation of its fruits, from which all of our food is drawn.”
Meanwhile, organisers were pleased with the weather and the traffic management plan at the previously untested Screggan site.