September may mark a return to schools, routine and the fall of the year but it also means its Ploughing time. What this means to many rural Irish residents is a day out/day off school, an opportunity to meet old friends, make new acquaintances and just generally enjoy the craic that comes with life in the Irish countryside!
For these three days in the third week in September, you can be sure of a few things. When the alarm goes off extra early, getting up on the day of the ploughing is a bit like waking up on Christmas morning, or the day that you are about to go on holidays; you hop out of the bed and are raring to go straight away! Then comes the packing. Wellies are the first to go in the boot. Then a pair of boots just in case the weather isn’t actually that bad. The second most important item is a jacket. A rain jacket of some sort that will shelter you from the rain but that isn’t too heavy, because when you go into the stands and exhibitors tents you’ll only roast. Unless you are a Mam or Dad bringing small children, a bag isn’t really a priority as there’ll be plenty available at the numerous stands you visit throughout the day.
Being from Laois, we luckily never had huge journeys ahead of us, and it seems to be a family trait that if there are back roads to any event, you could be sure you would find us dodging the traffic along these. Then there will be the comments about the cars in front of or behind us, such as on Tuesday morning when a 161-WX was on our tail as we wound along the back of Ballyfin, how did they find out about this road??!! (Google has ruined the secret back road system!)
Fair play to the guards, this year we were moving the whole time and we got to the grassy, clean field at 9:30am. Then the deliberations begin about whether to put on the wellies or boots, plus don’t forget to use the portaloo now, rather than later…! Again, being Tuesday morning, we had the pleasure of walking along the fresh grass onto the tracks and within 10 minutes we were through the entrance and spotting familiar faces and young lads with our local GAA teams gear bags, honestly, you can’t go anywhere!
The first port of call is the IFA tent (Irish Farmers Association) where you can have a cup of tea, take a seat, get your bearings with the free maps of the site and decide on your plan of attack for the day. Then you must enter in the competitions as many times as you can before going to walk out, where of course you will more than likely bump into someone you know or get a tug on your arm from someone who knows your father/mother/granny and will want the chats.
Then it’s into the thick of it. As with everything in life, priorities change over the years and for me it went something like this:
-Childhood: Celebrity spotting, which included the Liam McCarthy cup, hurlers, tv and radio presenters, politicians from the telly but most especially, RTE weather presenters. A polaroid of myself and Gerald Fleming is still very much a precious possession.
-Early teens: By this stage I was let off on my own but so long as we met back at a designated stand at a certain time (usually the NPA HQ). Collecting as much “stuff” as I could manage, This meant: pens, stickers, paper hats, leaflets, bags, brochures, high viz vests, anything I could get my hands on! (A lot of which went in the bin as soon as my mother could get her hands on them).
-Later teens: the livestock, the cookery demo’s and the hurdy gurdys which became a great meeting spot for all schools!
– In more recent years: the food demos, the food producers stalls, Bord Bia, the shopping arcades, having a look at the HUGE machinery on display, the livestock tents, especially the Belgium Blues, Charolais, Limousin and lesser known breeds such as the Romagnola’s, Aubrac & Belted Galloway’s.
Everybody says it, but there is just so much to see and do at the ploughing that it can be a little overwhelming and when I find this happening to me then I make a beeline for the Sheepdog Trials where there is open space and lots of gorgeous border collies and a quieter atmosphere. Time out here will give you a chance to enjoy the trials (!) that man and dog face when dealing with sheep and you may find their task so absorbing that you forget the time!
Once 4pm comes around, things start to wind down, the crowds ease off with many schools left for the day and there is a last minute dash to get to the stands you didn’t get to earlier in the day. It’s at this point that you now have to remember what gate you entered by and what car park you are looking for, so don’t let a little disorientation at this point ruin the great day you’ve just had!
Overall, getting to, and leaving from the ploughing has been an experience of heavy but moving traffic and the evening you come home from the ploughing will always be a mark that autumn has well and truly arrived as you remark how quick the journey home was, but yet how the dark the evening is already.
The next event after the ploughing that is a highlight in our calendar is Savour Kilkenny. It may be a food festival but it embraces it’s the beautiful location and combines my two favourites – food & the great outdoors. Here are the highlights from last year…