Thousands to follow ploughers up to Carlow


HISTORIANS will have to look back to the papal visit of September 1979 to match the crowds expected to gather in Carlow over the next four days for the National and World Ploughing Championships.

Come hail, rain or shine more than 150,000 people are expected to make their way to the ploughing site at Oak Park, on the north side of Carlow, for the four day event. Interest in the ploughing championships has increased dramatically in recent years and it is now the largest outdoor gathering of Irish people annually.

The end of the RDS Spring Show meant there was no focal point for farming and rural communities to get together. The ploughing championships now fill that gap.

With more country folk attending, the three card trick men of the last decade have been replaced by the main banks, building societies and accountants.

Farmers like the event as they can see real demonstrations of farm machinery. Farm families like the relaxed atmosphere. The business people like being there to make money.

This year the event is likely to generate some £10 million for Carlow and the area within a radius of 30 miles. Accommodation is at a premium with some visitors staying in guest houses and hotels as far west as Tullamore and south to north Waterford.

The National Ploughing Association has persuaded local people to rent out their spare bedrooms but even this accommodation is quickly running out.

The focal point of the championships for the public is not ploughing it is the tented village with its many stands, stalls, bars and restaurants.

In this village, becoming more like a small town in recent years, the non-ploughing events take place. These include lectures, demonstrations, concerts and fashion shows.

The ploughing sites, where hundreds of men and women compete for honours, are well removed from the village. While still a minority sport, there is a growing appetite for it in farming circles.

There is a great deal of interest in the horse ploughing competitions, and this year, for the first time, a woman will be taking part in this rugged competition.

The National Ploughing Championships will be officially opened at 9.45 a.m. by the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Yates, and at 10.30 a.m the main ploughing competitions begin.

The President, Mrs Robinson, will arrive tomorrow to officially open the World Ploughing Competition. That takes place on Friday, where the Irish national and world champion, Martin Kehoe, from Wexford, will be defending his title.

The importance of the event has not been lost on the political parties. On Friday the Fianna Fail leader, Mr Bertie Ahern, will visit the site, and tomorrow Ms Nuala Ahern, the Green MEP, will lecture on "Women Pushing Back the Frontiers".

Visitors to the event should allow for traffic delays. Although Carlow is regarded as the best site for traffic movement, allow at least an hour for entry and exit at the site.

Car parks are well sign posted and traffic will be channelled from at least 15 miles from Carlow.

First time visitors should remember that this is an outdoor event and while Carlow is regarded as the foremost site in the country, even in dry weather there will be mud. Leave your shoes in the car and bring good walking shoes or wellingtons. Also bring some rain gear in case it rains.

The weather forecast for today is good, with bright spells in the east. However, the weather is expected to become wetter and colder at the end of the week.

Some of today's events:

. Official opening, 9.45 a.m.

. Ploughing beings 10.30 a.m.

. Tractor parade, 11 a.m.

. Tractor precision driving competition, 11.30 am.

. ICA Lumra Work exhibition, noon.

. Fashion show, 12.15 pm.

. Cooking with venison, 1.45p.m.

. Limousin judging, 2.30 p.m.

. Charity auction IAVA stand, 3 p.m.

. Crowning of Queen of the Plough, Seven Oaks Hotel, Carlow, 8 p.m.