The beginning of this month saw hundreds of tillage enthusiast the length and breadth of Ireland taking to the roads for the beginning of the 2014/’15 ploughing season.

Over the next six months each will travel hundreds of miles to take part in a series of competitions that will be marked by two very fundamental characteristics; a deep respect for the crucial role played by ploughing at the heart of Irish agriculture and a friendly rivalry which, for many competitors, has been forged over many years.

“The National Ploughing Championships, is the obvious highlight of the year,” explained Martin Riley, from Aghnacliffe in Co. Longford.

“Every county in Ireland is represented here today. But we all know one another and it really is a case of renewing old acquaintances.”

Competition on day one is focused on the Intermediate Classes, using two furrow ploughs on stubble.

“Conditions are difficult. The summer has been so dry that the ground is extremely difficult to turn. Each competition plot is 60 metres long and 18 metres wide. But ee are all facing the same challenge: so it’s fair to everyone,” said Martin.

“If I am successful today, then I will qualify for the senior finals on Thursday. This will entail ploughing a grass sward. I have been competing at the National Championships for the past 12 years. To date I have won silver and bronze medals in the Junior section. But the gold award has always eluded me. Perhaps 2014 will be my year.”

Horse ploughing is always a big crowd puller at the National Championships. And day one of this year’s event saw teams of horses from all over Ireland putting their best foot forward. But, as was the case with their conventional colleagues, the horse ploughmen were quick to confirm the difficult conditions.

“The ground is very hard,” confirmed Jeremiah Delaney, from East Cork, who was competing with his pair of Irish Draught geldings Fox and Toby.

“This is my tenth year at the Ploughing. It’s a labour of love. But just being here is a victory in its own right.”