For three days in September, Ireland hosts its National Ploughing Championships. This year it was in the little town of Ratheniska, County Laois. The event is the biggest outdoor exhibition in all of Europe. 78,000 people attended the first day. 127,000 attended the second, and 90,000 attended the third day.
This first inter-county ploughing contest took place in 1931 as a result of an argument between two lifelong friends, Denis Allen of Gorey, County Wexford and JJ Bergin of Athy, County Kildare. Each argued that their respective counties had the best ploughmen. This resulted in a challenge being called for.
It has expanded from requiring a small field of 26 acres to needing over 700 acres of land today. Within this, the site now requires 180 acres for ploughing, 80 acres for trade stands and exhibition space, 400 acres of car parking and a demonstration area of approximately 25 acres. Since its inception, the National Ploughing Championships has become much more than just an annual inter-county competition; it has become an intrinsic part of Irish rural life.
I attended two days of the ploughing for 2015. The first day was overwhelming to try to get into all the exhibits that included vendors with agricultural equipment, livestock displays, antique tractors and farm implements, sheep shearing, sheep dog trials, baking competitions, and wellie (boots) throwing. There were many food and beverage stands, as well as amusements for the younger crowd.
The second day, I spent most of my time in the ploughing fields, watching Robert Roe of Wicklow County compete against several others. The event is timed and judged on how straight the furrows are, how even the depth is, and even how they match up to the neighbor’s furrows in the end. The event is also timed. The reason I was watching Robert is that he and his wife own Coolekay House, the Bed and Breakfast my husband and I were staying at. I first learned there ever was such a thing as a ploughing competition from Robert Roe and his wife, Yvonne.
If I ever get a chance, I will go back for another year of ploughing. To see more on the National Ploughing Association, check out their website at http://www.npa.ie