In a timescale of Irish shows history, the 75th anniversary of the Irish Farmers Journal and milestone birthdays celebrated by show stalwarts Walter Kent and Michael Hughes are relatively recent landmarks.
Weather makes or breaks an outdoor event and gate receipts. Unfortunately, several of last summer’s shows had to cancel and the swing towards equestrian centres, with their indoor and all-weather surface facilities, continued for both showing and show jumping exhibitors.
However, committees are resilient. West Clare, for example, cancelled their pony show jumping classes due to no entries and instead introduced cattle and family pony classes.
The cost of living issue had an impact too with entries tapering off after Dublin. “Where have the farmer-exhibitors gone?” was a frequently-asked question. A trawl of old catalogues would yield names, that once brought out their mare and foal or youngsters to the local shows. Breeder Patrick Connolly is one example, having attended shows with his father and who now spends his timebreeding the likes of superstar James Kann Cruz.
Younger exhibitors are there too though. Young Paul Bohan is a perfect example, showing both his Gortfadda Herefords and father Padraig’s Irish Draughts. “A local man once told us: ‘Everyday you enter the show ring, enter with a smile on your face, respect your competitors and most importantly respect the judge’s decision on the day, and leave the ring with a smile on your face,’” recited Padraig. Good advice.
More ‘next generation’ exhibitors to make their mark in 2023 included Alex Gill, Evan Henry, Ann Lambert’s ‘apprentice’ Jessie Murphy and Matthew Newell.
The Midlands Youth Group is a great initiative of a group of IT and social media-savvy 20-somethings, who go from show to show to help out with tasks, from face painting to stewarding. Walter Kent’s namesake grandson is part of the superb stewarding team for Bannow & Rathangan’s All Ireland final, incidentally won this year by veteran showman Dessie Gibson. Sort Code, his three-year-old champion, was bred by Ballivor Show’s Hazel Bye whose father Walter bred David Broome’s famous Sportsman, a horse that surely figured in Michael Slavin’s reports.
Melissa Glynn took the new task as Athlone Show’s equine section secretary in her stride. “Yes, I would!” she replied when asked if she’d do it again and in a lovely postscript, new fiance Colm Murray received the same response when he popped the question at Christmastime. That will be one meticulously-planned Big Day.
Bridget MacAuley, who won the 2008 Bannow final with Killossery Jupiter Rising succinctly summed up Bannow’s secretary when she remarked that Liz Freeman “would organise a government, not to mind the show. She was, still is, brilliant.”
Again, what a formidable Cabinet that would be with these sterling secretaries. Newmarket-on-Fergus secretary Fiona Duggan was regularly seen ringside as the family followed Jason Dunphy’s Viva’s Star, a big winner for his Kilkenny owner. Proud breeders on tour, a Sunday out, what shows are about for many.
I could make a dutiful attempt to list every 2023 champion, instead this year’s review is a tribute to the backroom teams that put on the local show. That Banner County Show, the first of the agricultural show season, is not complete without the sight of ‘Limerick lady’ Margaret Gleeson selling ISA yearbooks.
More highlights: the tiny Louisburgh community and neighbouring shows such as Crossmolina and Ballina, rallying to raise over €36,000 for the Bennett family after their house burnt down; Moate’s Dunkirk spirit in ensuring the show went ahead in Electric Picnic aftermath ground conditions; Julie Radden’s happy dance across Ring 1 after her Galileo Dance won the Croker Cup; an even happier Terence Sweeney after his Dunloughan Troy was the Clifden supreme in-hand champion during the CPBS centenary year; another Connemara - the evergreen Blackwood Fernando, a pony that brought so much joy to the late Bernard Byrne and then the bashful pride of presentation recipients.
From West Clare’s pamper package for Bridgette Coghlan and Jenny Glynn, (after the waterlogged pair’s first Badminton visit to watch Capel’s Hollow Drift, bred by Jenny), the Model County’s returned son Brendan Furlong presenting Walter Kent with a copy of Ben Hardaway’s “Never Outfoxed”.
At Clarecastle, the recipients included Roisin Dobson, Robbie Fallon, Michael Hughes and this year’s ‘Clarecastle medal’ holders: Frances Hatton, Dorothea Lazenby, a posthumous award for the late Ivan McDonagh, received by his daughter Lisa and the most bashful of all: Michael Slattery himself when the giver was given a medal by grandson Dylan, on behalf of family and friends.
‘Do we honour our stalwarts enough?’ Maybe not but that was a bumper day.
Photo of the Year:
It’s the story behind this humorous photobomb shot, taken at the performance championships run by Traditional Irish Horse Association on their shoestring budget. The Lynskey family - Liam, daughter Katie and son William - spent the day stewarding, as did a still-full-of-running Jennifer Haverty after cooking breakfast for the guests at her son’s 21st birthday party the night before. Remember lockdown? The joy of being at a show, having a party and the contribution of selfless volunteers. This photo will do nicely.
Show of the Year:
Galway Crystal’s James Callaghan kindly provided the 2022 Show of the Year trophy. In a recycling measure that Eamon Ryan would surely approve of, we can just add a ‘2023 too!’ sticker to the memento as Michael Slattery and his team pulled it off again this year. Congratulations, Clarecastle.