All roads lead to Birr this weekend where the annual ‘Queen of the Land’ festival organised by Macra na Feirme is taking place from Friday 10 to Sunday 13 of November, in the County Arms Hotel.
Now in its 59th year, the three-day festival will see 26 young women compete to be crowned this year’s Queen of the Land. Going head-to-head against other Macra club’s, each contestant will be judged based on their ability to communicate, their personality, appearance and farming knowledge.
According to the President of Macra, Elaine Houlihan, the Queen of the Land festival brings people together while also encouraging personal development.
“Queen of the Land is one of five personality competitions run by Macra throughout the year, drawing huge crowds to celebrate the women in our organisation while also giving them an opportunity to do something outside of their comfort zones.
“The essence of Queen of the Land is personal development while also linking members throughout the country with one another,” says Elaine.
The competition has also been used as a stepping stone, as some past participants have gone on and contended for the Rose of Tralee. This year in particular, the Kerry competition has received criticism for being outdated.
Asking Elaine for her thoughts on the matter, she says, “Around every competition, there is always some bit of negativity. But the real question is, what is outdated about celebrating women? It may have received criticism but the Rose is still one of the biggest competitions celebrating women and communities, with over half a million viewers in attendance at this year’s event. That affirms these competitions aren’t outdated.”
“Likewise Queen of the Land is an amazing competition and anyone who has previously won it has done great work for putting females in the agricultural sector on the radar,” concludes Elaine.
Growing up on a dairy farm in Co Kildare, Emma Birchall has always had an interest in agriculture and rural affairs.
In 2016, a girl from Emma’s club came second in the competition, which created a buzz around the Queen of the Land festival.
As Emma was relatively new to Macra and studying medicine in Cork, she missed the titles night and someone else was picked to represent Kildare. That girl couldn’t make the actual festival in November so Emma’s club nominated her.
“I suppose I was one of the only people who didn’t win their county round, but went on to win the Queen of the Land title. I don’t have the trophy from Kildare but look, we’ll get over that one,” says Emma.
“The weekend itself is amazing and the year I did it there were over 30 girls in the competition. I was lucky enough to win it which afforded me so many opportunities that year.”
“I was on Nationwide the week of the ploughing in 2018 to speak about my year as Queen of the Land and how important the competition is.
“I was also on the RTE 2fm breakfast show at the time with Jenny Greene and Nicky Byrne and I did work to promote Embrace Farm and the importance of farm safety,” says Emma.
For Emma, the competition creates a real powerhouse of women.
“A lot of people are very well steeped in agriculture but everyone comes from a rural background. We try to take an active role in lobbying the government on rural youth matters.”
Emma Birchall is still actively involved in Macra as she is the Vice Chair of the Rural Youth Committee and the National County rep for Kildare.
With the competition taking place locally, previous winner Karen Elliffe from Streamstown, Westmeath attended her first Queen of the Land festival in 2015 with a friend “for the craic”.
At the time, she wasn’t even a member of Macra and never would have dreamed a year later she would be entering and bringing home the crown.
“I was born and reared on a mixed enterprise farm. I studied a BSc in Equine Science at the University of Limerick. The long-term plan from the word go was to go farming, I got my green cert as soon as I graduated from college and I started my own beef enterprise. I have been farming full-time since.”
Blow my mind
Karen joined her local club Ballinagore Macra in September before the competition. When the titles night came around, a few of Karen’s friends said they would try their hand at interviewing. She ended up being selected and representing Westmeath in the 2016 competition.
“The experience completely blew my mind; I didn’t think in my wildest dreams I would end up doing the things I ended up doing. The morning after I won, I was on the radio and I got to go to the Department of Agriculture for the Irish and Beef Market Outlook. One of the highlights was a trip to Brussels to attend the European Young Farmers Conference at the European Parliament,” says Karen.
She continues, “On a sad note, in the last few days, one of the girls who took part that year, Liz Gleeson from Tipperary passed away. I met her a few times at events but that’s how close-knit Macra is, people become fast friends as a result of having so much in common. I wouldn’t have met some of the most incredible ag women like Liz, only for that competition”.