Below is a brief history of the National Ploughing Championships in Ireland, now Europe’s largest outdoor event.
First record of a plough competition in Ireland. Taking place in Camolin Park, Wexford on October 20, a £5 prize was offered to the person who made the best plough for the lowest price.
The first inter-county ploughing competition is held in Athy, Co. Kildare. The event stems from an argument between two friends – JJ Bergin of Kildare and Wexford’s Denis Allen – over whose county had the best ploughmen. On the 16th of February, nine counties competed in Coursetown. It’s the first event of its kind in the world. Wexford won.
The event has grown into a major national festival with commercial and political importance. Eamon de Valera is pictured at the 1938 competition in Carlow.
Twenty-four companies exhibit themselves at the event held in Killarney, Co. Kerry. World War II breaks out later in the year, but the National Ploughing Championships continued without interruption through the war years.
The first tractor ploughing class is introduced at the Championship. Horse-drawn ploughs are still widely used in Ireland at the time.
Women are allowed to compete for the first time with the new ‘Farmerette’ class. The winner is declared ‘Queen of the Plough’.
Charlie Keegan from Wicklow wins the World Ploughing Championship in Vienna, Austria. Keegan returns to Wicklow atop an open-top bus and much fanfare.
The event is held in Co. Dublin for the first time in 25 years and is a failure. Punters are apparently reluctant to travel to Finglas, and so attendance is poor, and a financial loss is recorded. The Championships have not been held in Dublin since.
The NPA celebrates its 50 year anniversary by hosting the World Ploughing Contest for the third time.
The Championships return to Athy, where they started in 1931. 26 counties take part – up from nine in 1931 – with over 320 competitors in all.
In its 84th year, the 2015 Championships set a new attendance record of 281,000.
Article by Peter Flanagan (@peterflanagan).