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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 24 March, 2019
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Mud, showbiz and ENDLESS cups of tea: We've been sunning ourselves at 'The Ploughing' all day

A certain two-dimensional RTÉ star ruled the roost in Ratheniska – and we learned quite a bit about Country n’ Irish.

Updated at 10:55pm

Man in anorak: “I’d say you’re busy, guard.”

Garda (grinning): “Run off our feet.”

THE ABOVE EXCHANGE pretty much sums up the typical mood at the National Ploughing Championships.

It’s an enormous event. There are tens of thousands at it  – but the nearest thing you’ll find to crime is a car wrongly parked. Or possibly a tractor.

Let’s get the stats out of the way first:

  • Over 200,000 people are set to visit over the three days – and there were close to 80,000 today.
  • The 2015 site takes up around 800 acres near Portlaoise.
  • There are over 1,500 stands this year – making it the biggest ‘Ploughing’ yet.

Almost everyone you chat to at Ratheniska comments on the sheer size of the event.

“Sure we haven’t even seen any ploughing,” one woman said, as she queued with her daughter outside Aldi’s massive tent-city.

She wasn’t alone…

The competitive ploughing – while still a huge draw – takes place around a kilometre from the ‘main drag’ of what’s become Europe’s largest agricultural trade show.

Most people are happy to potter from stall-to-stall and from marquee-to-marquee – joining queues whereever they see them, content that there’ll be something worth queueing for, once they get to the door.

higg President Higgins at the Ploughing today. Source: Rollingnews.ie

“We don’t know what’s inside, but it looks interesting anyway,” said another woman, again outside the Aldi complex (and it was – Aldi put a massive effort in this year).

It’s a similar story outside the RTÉ area, where a spokesperson proudly offered us the opportunity to “explore” the State broadcaster in its temporary, slightly mud-caked home.

“Why are we going in?” a middle-aged woman asked her friend.

“I don’t know. Sure we’ll see something. What time is it? … Ronan Collins or something.”

Ireland’s favourite showband-drummer-turned-MOR-broadcaster was sadly absent from the line-up however.

Instead, the all-ages crowd had to make do with a few minutes spent admiring weather-forecaster Nuala Carey through the studio glass.

Said a small girl:

“She has Wellingtons on her … look!”

Free tea and biscuits!

The atmosphere at the Ploughing is difficult to sum up, if you’ve never been…

‘Good natured’ goes some way toward doing it justice. ‘Very good natured’ would be better still.

It’s laid-back. It’s easy going. It’s where the farming community comes to catch up with friends, after a long season.

“It’s yourself!” is a common phrase heard amid the mud and machinery stands.

To put it another way: there are very few other places in Ireland where you’ll hear teenagers say the following, with actual enthusiasm:

“I think Des Cahill’s coming on next!” – a girl of about 15, in the RTÉ tent.
“Come on, there’s free tea and biscuits in here” – a boy of around 16, outside one of the myriad farming organisation stalls.

The big draw

So anyway…

We spent around ten minutes ‘exploring’ the pop-up version of Montrose, before moving on to check out the other sites.

It was downtime between broadcasts (the likes of Sean O’Rourke were live from Laois today)  – but there was still plenty else to see and do…

That said, in spite of all the inter-active wizardry on show the main attraction in the giant marquee was decidedly low-tech.

The Marty Party

35 people – kids, parents, grannies – stopped for a snap or a selfie with a cardboard Marty Morrissey while TheJournal.ie watched (yes, we counted).

“He’s by far the most popular,” the press person said.

2-D representations of Joe Duffy and other RTÉ stars stood by, unadored.

“What is it about Marty?” I asked a man from Westmeath, as his ten-year-old son posed for a photo – hurl in hand.

“It’s probably because of the sports connection.”

(A perfectly logical response, it has to be said.)

His son, David, once got a sliotar signed by the GAA presenter, his father explained.

“That’s cool, right?”

Said David:

“He’s Marty Morrissey, you can’t complain.”

Denver calling

Just a few hundred metres away, we stumbled upon what was perhaps the least-drink-fueled ad-hoc party ever to have happened on Irish soil.

It was 1.35pm.

On stage – a ruthlessly efficient Country n’ Irish outfit were knocking out the hits.

Presumably the heaving sea of humanity crowded into Aldi’s makeshift dance-hall hadn’t had anything stronger to drink than a few cups of tea.

But even so, couples of all ages and sizes were having the arms swung half-off them, all over the place

dan1 They'd have been swinging from the rafters ... if they'd been dancing in a structurally-sound building. And not a tent. Source: Daragh Brophy

“Who is this guy anyway, he’s very good?” a woman holding a toddler asked.

We had to plead ingnorance – so she checked with someone else.

“It’s Mike Denver,” it turned out.

The name rings a bell alright.

Apparently he’s huge.

Down to business…

Now, in case you get the wrong idea – it’s not all fun and games at the Ploughing.

It may be the continent’s biggest farming show – but later in the afternoon, we still had to ask around a fair bit before we found someone with even a passing interest in buying some farm machinery.

Most of the crowd – at least around the part of the event TheJournal.ie was frequenting – seemed content merely to stroll around and check out the sights.

Said Martin McKeown, a farmer from Co Down:

“There’s always people interested in seeing something new… New inventions and things. They’d only see them here.

“Hopefully there’ll be something that catches my eye. If there is, I’ll make a note of it and get back to them.

“There’s that many stands today – you don’t really strike a deal.”

Meanwhile, for those manning the stalls – business was brisk…

“We come here to meet the end-consumer and to do a lot of research for new product development as well,” said Ann Rudden, founder of the artisan Aine chocolates of Co Cavan.

Her stall – which is small, but well-placed – cost “a couple of thousand euro” for the three-days of the Ploughing.

“This is our thirteenth year exhibiting at the show. We come every year.”

20150922_135126 Ann Rudden of Aine Chocolates. Source: Daragh Brophy

Finally, a very laid-back man from Holland told us he was extremely impressed with the event, and noted the number of “environmentally conscious” exhibits at the show.

Hubert de Graaf (he’s here on his holidays) was particularly impressed with the “boilers and heaters”.

hub1 Dutch holidaymaker and newly-minted Mike Denver fan Hubert de Graaf. Source: Daragh Brophy

For some reason, we ended up having a long chat about the entertainment options on offer, as Hubert stood in the sunshine enjoying a serving of garlic chips.

Mike Denver may have expanded his fanbase to the tune of one Dutchman, by the time the sun sets on Ratheniska this evening.

Hopefully that squares us, @MikedenverMike ?

First published at 6:37pm

Read: From shorn sheep to stripped-off farmers: We’re at ‘The Ploughing’ – and here’s what’s happening

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