Most of Ireland is rural. Farming is a crucial part of the Irish economy, history and culture. One of the largest events in the country is all about farm life. Every September, when farming life calms down slightly, Irish farmers gather for a massive celebration of their vocation. The National Ploughing Championships are much more than a contest of skill with a tractor. The three-day event weaves together strands of a county fair and a trade show for an extravaganza as Irish as shamrock.
This year the Ploughing as it is known will be held from the 17th to 19th of September in the fields of Ballintrane, outside the village of Fenagh in County Carlow. More than 240,000 visitors, 1,700 exhibitors and 300 contestants are expected to converge on the event and generate an economic impact of more than €35 million. The power of the ploughing is enough to draw sponsorship from international brands such as Coca Cola and Etihad Airways as well as more obvious names such as the Farmers Journal.
An event of this scale has a massive impact on an island this size. Even the most urbane city dwellers are aware of The Ploughing. Roads for miles around are affected, the millions of euro the event brings to a different rural area every year can be a lifeline to villages. To put it in perspective, roughly 242,000 people will be visiting a site outside of a village with a population of about 400. To be exact, the 2016 census recorded 402 people living in Fenagh.
The Power of the Ploughing
The main attraction is the ploughing championship itself of course. Farmers of all ages, including those in the junior class, compete in categories such as two and three furrow conventional plough, horse plough, vintage plough and reversible plough. The brown bread baking competition with a €15,000 prize is also huge draw.
The earliest surviving record of organized ploughing competitions in Ireland is from 1816, but it seems safe to assume that farmers were finding ways to compete and show off their ploughing prowess long, long before that. The current championship began in 1931, when the Republic of Ireland was less than ten years old.
It was a hard time in Ireland. Most of the world was suffering in the 1930s, and this young nation was trying to find its feet and set a course to become the country generations had dreamed of under British rule. Eamon De Valera and other leaders were promoting the ideal of a pastoral, agrarian Ireland. And a what could be better to lift people’s spirits and remind them of Ireland’s roots and potential than a huge ploughing competition?
From those seeds grew this incredible event, drawing families from near and far to celebrate rural Ireland’s culture. As farm life evolves, agricultural technology develops and different trends rise and fall, The Ploughing keeps pace. But it never loses sight of its roots. It balances heritage and innovation for an event that embraces Irish farming’s future as much as its past.