The enjoyment and anticipation of a good ol’ country fair never grows old, and last Sunday’s 23rd Roscommon County Ploughing Championships which was held out at Clooncullane in Tulsk seamlessly wove together all of the rustic charm and tradition that is part and parcel of the farming industry in Ireland. It showcased the supportive and close-knit community of the area.
Helping out on the day, and keeping everything under control was the dedicated and dependable duo of genuine gems, Ms. Maura Quigley, Manager of the Roscommon Mart and her sister Ms. Regina Lohan who’ve been part and parcel of the jamboree for over two decades – and whose contributions I have no doubt have clearly added to the event’s overall success.
“We got involved in 1994 in the first one that was held in Ballindall and we help out every year on the day. We do all of the entries, we issue plot numbers, (which have already been allocated), and we deal with the farmers,” said a very busy, and good-natured Maura who appeared to be a firm favourite with everyone who came to see herself and Regina for help and advice.
The ladies’ ability to keep everything under control was hugely impressive as farmers were queuing for their assistance and attention to help with form filling and the verifying of details as the unflappable Maura, efficient and calm at the same time explained, “the judges will judge the entries, they’ll divide the plots, score the entrants and then they’ll add them up and myself and Regina will then double-check them, with the winner of the confined classes going on to represent the county in the National Ploughing (Championships).”
Plough it and show it was the order of the day as competitors and stall holders from across the county and some neighbouring counties were queuing up to enter, compete and showcase their crafts in this age-old tradition at the very heart of Irish agricultural life. Joe Gowran from Drumcliffe in Sligo was busy weaving hazel into a fence panel to pen sheep, or, as he explained: “It can also be used to build walls or sheds. This type of craft dates back over 1,000 years but I’ve been doing it since 1993.” Joe’s day job involves the woodland management of oak, ash and hazel.
“I became attracted to this (craft) in 1987 when I started on a course,” said Joe, who was at the Ploughing with colleagues Niall Miller and Mark Wilson. The trio, who are part of a group called Muintir na Coille, a Co-Op comprising of members from 13 different counties across Ireland, were on hand on the day to showcase their impressive craft skills and were keen to invite those interested to contact them on www.muintirnacoille.ie if they wanted to find out more about this ancient and traditional activity.
Having survived the heavy rain all week, competitors and visitors alike were delighted to see that the skies were clear as the hard-working robust men and women; well one woman, were keen to warm up in preparation for what is rural Ireland’s big showpiece event that is The National Ploughing Championships, which, according to their website, is set to return to Screggan, Tullamore, Co Offaly on September 19th, 20th & 21st.
The beautiful rose among the thorns was a young lady called Amy Daly who travelled from Kilbeggan County Westmeath with her proud dad John, mam Caroline and little sister Chloe (10) to carry on what she said was a “family tradition.” Amy, a 17-year-old student of Mercy Secondary School said she was “the only girl in the competition,” who was ploughing by hand using a Loy spade, and explained to this city slicker who has trouble potting a plant that “it’s the old-fashioned, traditional way to plough open ridges.”
“I came fourth in the Ladies Loy Digging in the All-Ireland last year. I’m interested in farming and digging and I go ploughing every weekend but on a Monday to Friday I’m in school studying for my Leaving Certificate” said the very polite and well-mannered young lady who also told me she adores her King Charles Spaniel Max, saying “I love him, he’s my baby.”
Amy is a credit to her family and their traditions, however, interestingly, despite being a dab-hand at digging and at winning competitions, this hard-working teen hasn’t set her sights on farming as a career, rather she’s gearing up to become a nurse, confessing, “I’m really interested in nursing as a career.” Well if it doesn’t work out she can always revert to ploughing as Amy came first in the Loy Ladies Senior Open!
When it comes to ploughing, there’s no need to teach farmer Danny Packenham anything. The friendly Cavan man and dad of six has got it all sown up with his impressive Vintage 1934 Classic Fordson Ransom Plough that meant nothing to me other than it was a shiny vehicle, but had my own hubby’s two eyes standing to attention with pure, unadulterated and disgracefully shameful lust! (I wish he’d look at me like that).
“I became interested in ploughing back in 2003 through a vintage club and it was the late Jimmy Evans, who is well-known in ploughing circles, who got me interested in Trail Ploughing,” explained Danny, who was at the event with two of his sons – meaning the love of the craft is being passed down from generation to generation. This popular regular, who spent two hours travelling to the event, proudly told me “I won the Sligo Ploughing in 2016, I came first in Cavan in 2016 and I came second in last year’s Roscommon Ploughing.” And his winning streak continues as Danny got first in the Vintage 2 Furrow Trailer Open.
As I headed back to my car, my new wellies a size too big for my sore feet, I stopped off at the hospitality tent to buy a vanilla latte made on almond milk…I can tell you the sound of the good-humoured amused laughter of the lovely ladies who were running it was clearly audible over the broom, broom of the farm machinery. One helpful volunteer, who upon hearing my Dublin accent allowed me some special dispensation, kindly informed me, “we have Nescafe or Maxwell House made with boiling water if any of them are any good to ya.”
Hubby, who was standing nearby with two of our dogs, was already easing himself and his mortification away, hoping nobody would associate him as being with me; the right eejit who went to a county ploughing event in a field thinking she could buy a vegan coffee! Ah, sure it takes all sorts…