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Dublin: 4 °C Thursday 24 January, 2019
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'Of course it's a setback but if it's not safe, it's not safe': 100,000 turned away as Ali knocks out Ploughing

The National Ploughing Championships is set to reopen today.

2868 Traffic_90554334 Traffic congestion as people leave the Ploughing Championships, after the event was called off Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

THE NATIONAL PLOUGHING Championships are set to get back under way today, as the country reels from being hit by Storm Ali.

The cancellation of the huge event was just one effect of the stormy weather, which left two people dead, tens of thousands without power and travel severely disrupted

Just shy of 100,000 people showed up to the first day on Tuesday, and a similar crowd was expected yesterday.

Photos from the scene showed major damage done on the site, with visits from high-profile guests such as Mary Berry and Paul O’Connell cancelled.

Despite the damage caused and inconvenience to many involved in the long-running event, organisers have managed to arrange for the show to go on today, with an extra day planned tomorrow.

“A lot of preparation went into this event from us, and all other exhibitors,” Niall Madigan from the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) told TheJournal.ie. “When it’s a day less, of course it’s a setback but if the conditions aren’t safe, they aren’t safe. It’s as simple as that.”

On Tuesday night, an announcement was made that the Ploughing Championships wouldn’t open to the public until 11am instead of 9am, due to the storm that was forecast to hit yesterday morning. 

As Storm Ali brought these strong winds to much of the country, the starting time was pushed back, but then later cancelled altogether just before midday.

People hoping to attend had been sitting in their cars or adjacent fields – some for several hours – waiting to hear the latest news prior to the confirmation it had been cancelled.

The managing director of the National Ploughing Championships Anna McHugh said that it was with “deep regret” that the decision was made to cancel a day of the event.

41958000_478210239345334_8878475090560286720_n Source: Leonda McDonagh

“Following lengthy consultations with the gardaí, Offaly Emergency Services and Met Éireann, it was determined that the site was unsafe to open, and as a result today… will have to be postponed as public safety is of paramount importance,” she said.

Losing out

There are hundreds of exhibitors – from big to small – at the Ploughing Championships and many of them would have lost the opportunity to win business due to yesterday’s closure.

42168968_320419692052853_3299142049969733632_n Source: Leonda McDonagh

Joanne Byrne, who was working at the Aldi marquee at the championships, told TheJournal.ie that there was a generally hopeful and optimistic feeling among exhibitors there heading into today that things will go smoothly. 

“But, for a lot of suppliers, this could be the difference between selling or not,” she said. “They’ve lost a full day but fingers crossed people can get back on track now tomorrow.

There’s an understanding here though. People aren’t angry, they’re just disappointed. They’re bitterly disappointed.

There was damage caused to a number of exhibitors’ areas, including the IFA stand.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

“Our people who built our stand are waiting to get back in to assess the damage and fix it up,” the IFA’s Madigan told us yesterday afternoon. “Our stand would be more solid than most, but some of the front was completely ripped off.”

He said that, like a number of other exhibitors, losing a whole day of the ploughing was bitterly disappointing and the damage caused made it even more of a headache for participants.

Madigan said: “We might not have been affected as badly as some others by it, because we would use these three days as an opportunity to come and meet people, and meet our members.

For many, they’d approach the Ploughing not so much as a sales event, but it’s about generating leads. The footfall alone, nearly 100,000 visited [on Tuesday]. If you’re set up here and hoping to get x% of that at your stall, it’s a setback. 

Extreme conditions

As seen in the photos below, the winds of Storm Ali caused a great deal of damage at the site in Tullamore.

2661 Storm Ali_90554293 Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Ploughing Championships cancelled storm damage Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Ploughing Championships cancelled storm damage Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

2658 Storm Ali_90554294 Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

42213538_348905668987498_3690716348649832448_n Source: Leonda McDonagh

The Order of Malta had tents stationed at a number of parts of the site, as it is providing medical assistance to those who require it, and it managed to avoid the damage caused elsewhere. 

Aoife Clarke, from the Order of Malta, told TheJournal.ie: “We had crews on standby until a decision was made from earlier morning. We’ll have a full crew again there [today].

Our tents were fine, but bits and pieces had been blown over. These decisions are always made on the grounds of safety. When we have extreme decisions – be they sun, heat or wind – it’ll present challenges. All our volunteers will be there again [today], and we’re ready for whatever happens. 

Luckily for exhibitors, and visitors, organisers confirmed yesterday evening that the Ploughing will open for an extra day tomorrow, giving people the opportunity to enjoy the full three days. 

Aldi had hoped for a star-studded affair yesterday with rugby legend Paul O’Connell and Dublin football James McCarthy due to appear, but their appearances have been cancelled. Byrne, however, is more hopeful that the brown bread and lemon drizzle baking competitions can still go ahead today.

“It’s not all bad,” she added. “This is my fifth time at the Ploughing Championships and sitting here for three and a half hours between waiting in the car park and traffic, I walked into the field below and got to see the tractors there taking part in the actual championships.

I have the joy of seeing a furrow being ploughed for the first time. So it’s not all bad. 

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Sean Murray

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