World turnip race still attached to its Ballydehob roots

 

The 2006 World Championship Turnip Race takes place tomorrow. In the absence of offers from Beijing and London, it will once again be hosted by Ballydehob, the west Cork coastal village which nestles in the neighbourhood of the better-known Schull and Baltimore.

Ballydehob's annual festival kicked off last week when a fleet of 20 renovated, traditional towel-sail yawl lobster boats arrived in Ballydehob harbour. "Up to the 1950s, the boats fished the coastline from Kerry to Waterford," explains festival organiser Barry O'Brian, owner of the O'Brian bar at the head of the village. "They were home to the fisherman for weeks at a time."

The boats are little bigger than a rowing boat and are powered by twin beige sails. Unimaginable that men could live on them for six or seven weeks. But Ballydehob is not only about nostalgia. "It's the week when people decide not to go to Schull or Baltimore but come to Ballydehob," says Andrew Windsor, who runs the local culinary store, Summersalt.

The festival runs until Sunday and includes nightly live street music, a busking competition and the turnip race. Barry explains: "It's a question of man and turnip getting over the line." The race is an adaptation of road bowls, still a popular sport up and down the west coast. Those in the know use a light whipping action to hurl a fist-sized turnip up the road, under the watchful gaze of Danno O'Mahony, former heavyweight all-in wrestling champion, whose statue overlooks Ballydehob's main street.

About 40 competitors are expected and the judges are going to have their work cut out to prevent any abuse of the glaring similarity of all turnips. After all, they are kind of pink-fleshed and difficult to tell one from another.