Ploughing Festival places agri sector on centre stage

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Every September around this time, I go out to the shed and rummage around until I find a pair of wellington boots. I dust them off, polish them up and then off I go on my annual trip to the Ploughing Championship.

It’s a different kind of festival. As soon as you get within five kilometres of the site you will see the helium balloons aloft in the sky directing you to the various carparks and centres.

When you arrive there, it’s like arriving at an oasis after weeks in the desert. Suddenly this massive tent city appears on the horizon, milling with people, and guarded by the most gigantic gleaming agricultural machinery you could imagine.

Half a mile away, there is the reason why the championship is taking place. Tractors and horses diligently plough neat furrows in enormous fields watched by the kind of crowd you would see at an intermediate hurling championship game.

It’s a long time since others cottoned on to the potential of this massive celebration of rural Ireland. Obviously, businesses geared towards farming and agriculture have always been there. The banks, food companies, coops, country associations, have long been there. So have the sports companies (especially hurley manufacturers) with top GAA starts signing the hurleys.

And every Government Department is there. For sure, the Department of Agriculture and Teagasc both have big presences; so does the IFA and the ICMSA. Nowadays so do the supermarkets. All the big multiples vie with each other to have the biggest marquee with the best giveaway – the Lidl cowboy hat was de rigueur for the teenagers one year. The media also has a big presence down there.

And inevitably the politicians have come. First of all it was Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Now they’re all here. Even though the farming community is their weakest support group, Sinn Féin leaders always seem to have that element of stardust about them.

Neither Leo Varadkar nor Micheál Martin have been there this week as both are in the United Nations in New York, but even if they were there, they would not attract the same huge crowd that Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald received on Tuesday.

Pictured: Ploughing their own furrow…Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Roscommon/Galway TD Claire Kerrane at Ratheniska this week.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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