Colm O’Regan reminisces on the models that caught his eye, when he attended the Ploughing as a child, and ponders the significance of ‘Culchie Chic’ to the wider Irish society.
I think it was the models that got me. Not the models-turned-nutritionists/dieticians-or-whatever but the model farm machinery. I had never seen such a collection of farm machinery in my life.
Children going in there were clearly completing their collection. These weren’t fair-weather farmers who just wanted to get a ‘big tractor mammy’. Mammy was standing next to them as they patiently explained exactly what they needed. “I have a tractor. I need a baler now.” I grew up on a farm, but I still needed some of the more complex machinery explained to me. In fact, a handy way to get a crash course in farm machinery is to go the toy shop at the ploughing. It’ll just save you the embarrassment of having a five-year-old say to you “eh … that’s a rotavator” before rolling their eyes.
You see children everywhere. Off their heads on Fanta, holding Daddy’s hand ‘TIGHT NOW YA HEAR ME’ because no one wants to lose a child at the ploughing – a) because of the loss; but b) Cassie Acheson the woman on the tannoy, who for decades was the voice of the ploughing, would have to make an announcement, and you’d feel you were letting her down by being another eejit who lost a child.
There are people who wouldn’t go to Dublin unless the pope was there or their county was having All Ireland heartbreak … but they’ll be at the ploughing. Maybe they’ll go and look at the machinery. The beasts of tractors where even the front wheel is taller than the average Bullock and comes complete with a Spotify playlist or maybe they’ll go and watch the horse ploughing, their minds cast back to simpler times.
“If you squint in the distance, you might see a ditch. There’s not a thistle or a ragwort of a knotweed-choked discarded harrow in site. This is farming on some scale.”
Glastonbury for farmers
Farmers from poorer farmland – with their tiny, stone-walled fields – gaze in wonder at the single Savannah that hosts the ploughing. This year it’s in a giant field in Tullamore, and if you’ve any farming soul in you at all, just take a look at the photos on social media of the site. If you squint in the distance, you might see a ditch. There’s not a thistle or a ragwort of a knotweed-choked discarded harrow in site. This is farming on some scale.
“Glastonbury for farmers” is how one attendee described it to me the last time year I was there. He was certainly right on the scale. I read an interview about how Electric Picnic has to cater for a large town of 55,000 people over the course of a weekend. Well, last year more than 120,000 people attended the ploughing on a single day, in what was probably the third largest gathering of people in the State ever. If Electric Picnic is a town, the ploughing is a bigger town (one heavily reliant on agriculture).
The ploughing has been around for decades, but it seems its profile is greater than ever. I think there are a number of reasons for this. One is the scale, mentioned above. A world class event run down the country with no fuss, no hames, no mention of consultants, tribunals, sweetheart tax deals. It usually arrives as an antidote to whatever chicanery Official Ireland has thrown up during the summer.
Also when the country was on its uppers, farming was the only thing that was growing. We were feeding the world. Urban folk who seemed to think the country was about tractor protests, roving gangs in vans and poor broadband woke up to the fact that the countryside abides. It’s got a spirit, a life of its own – both related and unrelated to farming.
There’s also been a development of a bit of culchie chic. People have been getting the shift in Coppers long before Leinster Rugby players turned up, but now there’s a sort of ironic cache attached to it.
“It’s a slightly disconcerting experience to see a cow wander over, get clamped in and have a robot try and find its udder and milk it. ”
The lines between traditional countryside and urban roles have blurred. Some of it is commuting, some of it is sports-related, but some of it also is due to social media which allows the slickest of the city slicker to see what’s really happening beyond Citywest. Stuff they would never have seen unless they’d set the Skyplus for Nationwide.
Facebook viral videos of the anarchic craic had by lads building swimming pools out of bales and silage plastic. The Farmer’s Journal felfie competition (farmer selfie) that was the third most visited page on the BBC website for a couple of days. People drooling over and sharing videos of ‘Competitive Russian Big Machinery Out Of A Bog Pulling’; all of this is part of the reason why rural life is no longer as much of a mystery and maybe is a reason why the ploughing grows from year to year.
Something for everyone
Of course, this airy-fairy conjecturing about social trends is probably immaterial to the no-nonsense organisers of the event as they enter the home straight before the Championships kick off in Tullamore. Their concerns are about laying down 25km of track or making sure the two enormous spread sheets of 1,500 exhibitors are all up to date. Seriously, go to the website and look at those spread sheets of the great and good who will be setting up stalls in Screggan.
There can’t be too many files that have Robotic Milking Parlours and the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit in the one spot. Speaking of robotic milking parlours, do check that out. It’s a slightly disconcerting experience to see a cow wander over to what looks like a sentient take away, get clamped in and have a robot try and find its udder and milk it. Watching those robotic milk-clusters seek out the teat is like watching a sort of cross between a newborn and a teenage disco.
All in all, though, whatever your furrow in life, be it created by a docile horse named Toby or sitting in a 200-acre field, wrenched out the ground by ten drill implement pulled by a tractor called the HauptUberSturmTraktor Beest 4000, there’s something at the ploughing for you.
CALL IN AND SAY HELLO: ThinkBusiness will be at The Ploughing 2016 – in the Bank of Ireland tent, block 2 row 11. It would be great to see you there.
MUST READ: If you are going to the ploughing, here’s a handy survival guide. This year’s ploughing will be held in Screggan, Co. Offaly from September 20-22.
Colm O’Regan is a writer and comedian. See more at www.colmoregan.com or follow him on Twitter – @colmoregan.
Images from RTÉ; AC Rider / Shutterstock.com; Sergei Butorin / Shutterstock.com.