Scoring lines at the Ploughing Championships

It’s not very often one is afforded a private lesson in Loy ploughing from one of Roscommon’s masters, but that is what this reporter experienced on Monday evening last when I visited Gerry Browne.

  First of all, Gerry is a busy man. Not only is he deeply involved with the Roscommon Ploughing Championships; he is also the chairperson of the Roscommon Lamb Festival.

  Thankfully he took time out of his busy schedule to demonstrate just how a traditional loy works.

  Gerry led me to a patch of grass where he hammered what appeared to be a builder’s line into the earth.

  “Converting grassland into tillage land, the tool involves no moving parts only elbow grease and time,” he told me as he measured out a spot with his feet.

  We fell into a conversation about modern machinery and the fact that the human race seems to have even less time these days in spite of technology.

  “It’s one of the paradoxes of our time,” Gerry said as he sunk the loy into the ground.

  “You have to score a line like this,” he started. (In Dublin, “scoring a line” has a slightly different meaning but I didn’t mention this to Gerry). “And the depth of the score determines the depth of a clean sod you can turn over. During competition you’ll see people paying great attention to this initial part of the job,” he added.

  “A clean, straight scoring line will give you a clean, straight edge on your sod when it’s turned over,” said Gerry as he provided an example.

  To begin, a competitor must set up three lines with six pegs 46” apart. The plot, consisting of two ridges, should be 92” wide. Before digging begins, all three lines should be ‘nicked’ or ‘scored’ and lifted before digging commences. The ridge will consist of two sods turned towards each other, leaving a verge in the centre.

  “You don’t have to lift it, you lever it over,” said Gerry as he expertly turned the soil. He then repeated the action to demonstrate what a finished bed would look like.

  “This is in what’s called lay ground, or grassland. It wouldn’t work in tilled ground because there would be nothing to hold the sod together. There you have it anyway,” said Gerry as he stood back and admired his handiwork.

  Time consuming it may be, but loy ploughing has a certain charm to it. It was a fine Monday evening and we were out in the fresh air working the soil. Farming as done in the Ireland of yesteryear with no need for modern technology or even a horse.

  We were back to basics and for a few minutes it was just the loy and the labourers. It was grand and peaceful until my smartphone buzzed and transported us back to modern, hectic Ireland.