With wellies on their feet and maps in their hands, more than 91,000 people descended yesterday on the fields of Ratheniska, Co Laois, for the opening day of the first National Ploughing Championships since 2019.
fter a site in Stradbally was turned into a quagmire two weeks ago at Electric Picnic, most visitors had come prepared with rain gear, but it was not needed as the sun shone for the entire day.
Great craic was had at the bandstand as children danced to Shania Twain and Garth Brooks hits.
I had great joy coming to Laois, it’s the one place in the country where you come and see golden fields, it’s a joy
Nearby, farming enthusiasts watched the horse ploughing, where President Michael D Higgins opened the championships.
As an animal lover, he said it was the first place he always visited every year when entering the grounds.
Wearing a three-piece tweed suit, he admired the ploughing along with his wife, Sabina, and the managing director of the National Ploughing Association, Anna May McHugh.
Jerry Dennehy, from Tralee, Co Kerry, introduced his two horses to Mr Higgins, hoping to impress him with his smooth furrows.
Mrs Higgins was delighted to be back in Laois for the championships after a three-year break imposed by the Covid pandemic.
“I had great joy coming to Laois, it’s the one place in the country where you come and see golden fields, it’s a joy,” she said.
“I got out of the car and said, ‘Thank God for Laois’.”
The President said farming in Ireland should not only be protected as a way to feed the country, it should be understood that it is a way of life.
He added that the Plough-
ing provided a great chance for urban people to learn about the farming life.
“It isn’t only about what happens in relation to the soil and the produce, it’s in relation to rural life itself and I think there is a great opportunity if we take it now to revive our rural towns,” Mr Higgins said.
“I have been critical of those services that have departed Irish rural towns, having been supported for generations by Irish people.
“Given the evolution of technology, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to have a great life in rural Ireland and have access to all the services.
“It would be foolish to draw distinctions between urban living and rural living – there are too many issues we share together.”
In his speech opening this year’s event, Mr Higgins said the United Nations was in crisis, and that its meeting currently taking place in New York would “again avoid dealing with the structural issues”.
“Our planet is burning and food is one of the necessities of our life and responsibility to our planet is something we all share, so I’m trying to bridge the gap between New York and Laois,” he said.
“We must all be together demonstrating the special solidarity that is required for sustainability to happen.
“We can and we will together meet the challenges of the future – addressing hunger, global food insecurity, climate change and biodiversity loss, managing Brexit, feeding the planet’s expanding population, protecting our farm families and rural communities and continuing to build an inclusive, flourishing, compassionate and generous Republic.”
As farmers have said, it is going to be a long and hard winter as the cost-of-living crisis worsens.
One farmer told the Irish Independent fuel prices were a major worry for him, and it was nice to be able to chat about such concerns with others in the industry.
Michael Wilson and Francis Culligan, from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, said they were delighted the Ploughing was back.
They have both worked in farming all their lives and look forward to the event every year.
“It was a fantastic day, no doubt about it, the sun shone and there was no mud or nothing. Once the weather is right, that’s the main thing,” Mr Culligan said.
Mr Wilson added: “We can’t complain – we’re down just for today but we will come again next year. It was nice now without a doubt – I really enjoyed it, it’s nice to get out and about now without masks.
“We come from farming backgrounds and we worked all our lives in farming so we know what it’s all about.
“The machinery and the displays would be my favourite part. I love the different stands and the antiques and all of that.”
It is an exciting year for the National Ploughing Association (NPA) because Ireland will be hosting the World Ploughing Championships for the first time.
Russia was originally supposed to host the 2022 event, but after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of neigh- bouring Ukraine, the NPA said it would be happy to step in and play host.
The world ploughing will take place on the final two days of the Laois festival.
“Twenty-five countries from all over the globe, from Africa to Australia, will be participating in this year’s World Ploughing Contest in Ireland,” World Ploughing Organisation general secretary Anna Marie McHugh said.
“The very best international ploughing competitors and their teams will be battling it out to become supreme world champions.”
Although the majority of people attending the Ploughing had pulled on their wellies and jeans, there was still some style to be seen as Miss Ireland, Dr Ivanna McMahon, showed off her crown while wearing a full-length gown and sash – with her wellington boots on underneath.
Dr McMahon, from Ennis, Co Clare, attended the championships many times when she was a student, but this was her first time posing in a crown in the Husqvarna area.
With more than 500 stalls at the event, the Ploughing is not only a massive occasion for the farming community, It is a boon for businesses, charities and other organisations that showcase their work and services over the three packed days.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/ploughing-championships/thank-god-for-laois-president-higgins-and-wife-sabina-join-farming-faithful-for-return-of-the-national-ploughing-championships-42005766.html Ploughing Championships 2022: ‘Thank God for Laois’ – President Michael D Higgins and wife Sabina join farming faithful for return of the National Ploughing Championships