Ploughing for Longford: Almost as big as ‘playing county’

Longford may not be known as an arable county but it has one of the strongest ploughing clubs in Ireland, which acts as an important social outlet, according to county PRO, Luke Casey.

Chaired by Cynthia Geelan, it had 74 members affiliated to the National Ploughing Association in 2017.

“Members appear weekly, without fail, to plan ploughing trips around Ireland. Following in the footsteps of generations before them, they inspire our annual events and contribute to various aspects of the national ploughing and the exhibition,” Luke said.

“At the turn of the millennium, Longford Ploughing was recognised by journalist and GAA commentator, Eugene McGee, as the largest assembly of people in the county for the year with maybe one possible exception – the county football final.

“We have been recognised by Anna May McHugh as hosting the largest local ploughing event in Ireland. Built on tradition, we have a continuous documented history of ploughing in Longford since 1933, with one cancellation in 2001, due to Foot and Mouth,” said Luke.

Over the years, the Longford ploughing championships have attracted the support of passionate ploughing competitors countrywide. It has grown into the largest ploughing event in the country’s spring ploughing calendar, with over 90 ploughs in action in recent years.

Workshop

For now the immediate focus is on the ploughing workshop and novice match that will be held on the land of Neville and Anne Mills, Clonbrin, Abbeyshrule, on Monday, March 19, at 12:00pm.

The best first-timer on the day will get the chance to compete at the National Ploughing Championships.

“Thanks to the excellent tutors we have in Longford, two people who ploughed for the first time in 2016 were triumphant in Tullamore. Connor Mulligan won the novice class and Leanne Shaughnessy was second in the Macra class.”

Participants also learn a lot about tractor safety at a novice match. Entrants over 16 years old receive invaluable guidance on basic ploughing and competition standards.

“Those with their own plough can bring it along and gain practical tips for the next task at home,” Luke added.

County match

Next up will be the eagerly-anticipated county match on the farm of John and Maura Harte at Carrickedmond on Sunday, March 25, sponsored by White’s Trailers. The Hartes also hosted the county event in sunshine in 1996 as well as the novice ploughing in 2016.

“Every year the best ploughmen in Ireland compete at the Longford Ploughing match: David Gill from Co. Down, a world champion; Brian O’Neill of Tyrone; and Matthew Simms, from Donegal will attend again this year,” said Luke.

“Our event is six months after the National Ploughing Championships and many leading ploughmen keen to compete against the strongest talents will travel to Carrickedmond,” he said.

“They will savour the opportunity to plough again alongside Edgeworthstown man, Anthony Reynolds.”

Having won his class in Tullamore last September, Anthony will represent Ireland in the 2018 Five Nations Challenge.

“This competition between Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland will take place at Northern Ireland’s championships later this year,” Luke said.

“This is Anthony’s first time to carry the flag for Ireland and the competition at Carrickedmond will sharpen his wits and prepare him for the bigger stakes. Martin Reilly and Mel McKenna along with Sean Monaghan have enjoyed great success in other counties so far this year,” he said.

Traditional ploughing

“Eamon and Joseph Egan from Kenagh and Bernard and Brian Casey from Drumlish, will master the art of horse ploughing.

“We expect to see all our well-known horse ploughing teams travel to Longford yet again this year: Gerry Relly and Joe Fahy form Galway; Noel Hand from Monaghan and Gerry King from Louth. Liam Flynn from Sligo is also hoping to plough in Longford again this year,” said Luke.

Vintage ploughing is another key aspect. “There will be the chance to watch dozens of vintage tractors and ploughs in action, all restored to rally condition.

“Longford stalwarts include: Paddy Whitney form Mostrim; and John King form Newtownforbes and George Farrah. Brothers David and Billy Stewart from Kilashee will fight it out in the two-furrow class. Charles Stewart has pursued the trailer plough technique,” said Luke.

A large entourage of vintage outfits from other counties converge on Longford ploughing every year, attracted by the high standard of our vintage ploughmen.

“The men from Northern Ireland have appeared in droves in recent years and we already have bookings from new entrants from Ulster,” he said.

There will also be a Macra class and a loy digging category. Many young competitors have taken to loy digging in recent years, according to Luke.

Catching the imagination of many will be the Friends of Ferguson section. There were seven competitors, including one from Wales, in this category in 2016.

Farmerettes

This will be the 57th year of the farmerette competition. “Reigning queen, Cynthia Geelan, from Newtownforbes, holds the 2013 national bronze medal and the 2014 national silver medal. With Eimear Esler and Eimear Monaghan competing at the 2018 novice ploughing match, Cynthia – who is also our chairperson – will have a battle to retain her title,” Luke said.

The winner of the farmerette class will receive the Longford Ploughing Association tiara and sash handcrafted by Edre Mills.

The 57th Queen of the Plough will receive her crown at a presentation night in the Rustic Inn, Abbeyshrule on Saturday, April 14. Dancing will be to Declan Nerney and his band.

Providing colour will be celebrity ploughing. Having recently launched his band, Ballycumber entertainer Ciaran Rosney is gearing up for ‘Celebrity Ploughing Bootcamp.’

Ciaran will plough his plot on a Ferguson GoldBelly 35 under longstanding ploughing mentor Paddy Whitney. Ciaran will then appear in a Ford County 1474. This will be fitted with a six-furrow Overum wagon plough.

The event will also incorporate: a machinery dealership display; a vintage exhibition; a dog show; a sheepdog exhibition; music and family entertainment.

For more information, see the Longford Ploughing Association Facebook page.