Virginia Show: Everything a good country event should be
There’s farm machinery, marquees and flags, and posh girls in Dubarry boots
Competitors in the pony show at the Virginia Agricultural Show in Co Cavan. Photograph: Barry Cronin
The annual Virginia Show, the 77th no less, is absolutely everything that a good country show should be.
There’s sheep and cattle, dairy cows and bullocks. And bulls, huge ones, sometimes snorting, other times lying docile, looking a picture of innocence – like a lump gouged out of someone’s leg wouldn’t melt in their mouth.
And there are farm dogs and birds of prey, and horses and ponies and the besotted little girls who go with them.
There’s farm machinery and gadgets, lumps and tubes of galvanised metal to make pens for controlling animals. There are marquees and flags, sweet stalls, and burger stands, ice-cream sellers and fellows who have just the high-visibility vest or jacket that you need.
There’s country folk and city folk; fellows with brollies and peaked caps. And posh girls in Dubarry boots and others wearing mucking-out wellies. And there’s mud and grass and gravel and straw and chat – loads of chat.
Young Séamus from Killeshandra was giving the Cavan Beekeepers Association observation hive his full attention.
“That one’s the queen,” he says, pointing to a single bee among the maybe 500 on show behind the Perspex. This one had a tiny yellow speck on her back which was put there, he says.
All around were jars of honey and mead, bars of wax and candles.
Do you keep bees?
“I do,” replies Séamus, adding that he was six years old.
“Seven,” notes his brother Archie, who is eight.
“I’m seven actually,” says Séamus, setting the record straight.
Half of a hall was filled with the prize vegetables and cakes, wood works and paintings, knitting and flowers. It’s a good year for fat bouquets picked from beds of perennials – a good year too for busy lizzies.
Jimmy Screene from Galway, well known on the sheep-judging circuit, is giving 13 pedigree Texel ewe lambs more than the once over. The inspection process inside Ring 1 is intense.
“You’d think they’d have a halter,” says a man leaning on the rail watching the efforts of the breeders to get their sheep to stand still and in a straight line for the judge.
Screene circles each animal and hikes up their rears to have a good look. He stands back, digs his fingers into the wool on the centre of their backs; goes around front and looks at them again, this time straight on.
“Style is the first thing,” he explains later when asked what he was looking for. “Then presence, which means can they show themselves off. And a good fleece of wool. The top six were very close.”
The breeders take it all with a great passion.
“You could offer them €1,000 for a second place and they wouldn’t take it. Well, most of them anyway. They all want the red rosette,” he says.
In this case, the rosette went to John and Michael Donohoe of Crosserlough, Co Cavan. Second place was taken by Patrick Leonard of Glassdrummond, Co Monaghan, with Donna Vidal of Trim, Co Meath in third.
Most of the 13 six-month-old lambs had coloured coats, varying shades of yellow, through to rust and a light dusty brown.
What do you use to dye them?
“Shit, I’m afraid in their case,” Vidal says laughing.
A vast, 2½- year-old red and white Hereford bull was resting on a pile of straw, and also on his laurels – in this case the red rosette of the champion.
“When I was a child,” says Marina Cassidy, a harpist originally from Kilmainham Wood but now living in Killarney, “I was here parading Herefords for my father.
“But I don’t think we ever had anything as good this,” she adds, eyeing the winning beast at her feet.
The Diageo Baileys competition, known simply as The Baileys, is fought with an epic intensity. A dozen or so Friesians, vast black and white cows with filled-to-the-brim udders chequered by bulging veins, are lined up in their stalls having their final make-over, a process known as “cow fitting”.
Young men groom them with humming electric clippers, displaying greater care and attention to detail than was ever lavished on a two-legged princess getting ready for a ball.
“To win the Baileys,” says Aiden Foody from Ballina, looking into the middle distance at a holy grail only he can see, “it’s the Baileys. It’s like the All-Ireland and I’m a Mayo man, so I know what it’d mean to me.”
In a quiet corner of the fantastic hubbub that is the Virginia Show, sits the small caravan of Madam Mystical, which proclaims her as “daughter of the seventh daughter born with a gift”.
So, Madam Mystical, who has a raffish air to her and a great mop of pure blond hair (and a slight Dublin accent), what does the winter hold for the farmer?
“Best in the world,” she says with firm certitude or cast iron foresight. “They’re going to make a lot of money.
“But it’s going to be a bad winter,” she adds, always one to hedge her bets. “There’ll be lots of cold and frost.”
Well, at least one of the predictions will be more correct than the other.