The Irish Farmers Journal spoke with former Virgina Show president John O’Reilly (1980-1992), whose father Paddy was the first show president, about the history of the Virginia Show.
“The first show was started in 1940. During the war, a group of people who were attending night classes in Virginia adjourned to local pubs, as people would do at the time, and they discussed how they would improve the life for fellow farmers of the community.
"That’s when they decided they were going to run a show," said John.
“The first two shows were held where the football pitch where Ramor United is now, on the Kells road out of Virginia.
"After that, the show committee came down and bought the property the show is being held on today from the Elliott family for £600.
"That was when the show was started on these grounds here.”
Many shows in Ireland at the time were losing money. The Virginia Show committee had a different take on things.
It was a great success, when you consider it was built and run by a voluntary committee
“Within four years, the show committee had built a dancing hall, which was known as the Ramor Farmers Ballroom.
"It was a great success, when you consider it was built and run by a voluntary committee.
"These dances paid all the bills for the show.
Shows years ago had no sponsorship - many shows lost money hand over foot - but the dances from September to Christmas paid all the bills the show had.“
The mark that the Virginia Show committee left on the local community it what sets it apart.
A different place
“In the late 1950s, Ireland was a very different place. Secondary education was not free to anybody.
"Young people today could never envisage what it was like back then.
"The local community was pushing the Department of Education to build a school in Virginia.
"The powers that be up in Dublin at the time felt that Virginia were not entitled to a school.”
The Virginia Show committee took things into their own hands.
“In 1960, the show society decided they were going to build their own school and eight or nine farmers from the area guaranteed the £20,000 in the bank to build that school.”
The school was opened in 1962 by the then-minister for education Paddy Hillary, who became President of Ireland in later years.
The school had 50 pupils and three teachers when it opened.
Today, it is the biggest secondary school in Co Cavan, with 720 pupils and 55 teachers and is located the show grounds.
Not only did the Virginia Show committee help get the first secondary school into the town, it also played a big part in the building of the show centre.
“The show centre we are in today cost €1m and was opened around six years ago by then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
"It was the biggest investment by LEADER in Ireland at the time.
"They gave €500,000 towards it and the rest was paid through sponsorship and, again, the show put money towards it.
"It is a wonderful community property and is being used seven nights a week - the only day it’s not being used is Christmas Day. “
One of the main attractions at the show is the Baileys champion dairy cow, which has a prize of €10,000 up for grabs.
John spoke about the birth of the competition: “Myself and Ned Duffy, who was secretary at the time, were at the first meeting of the Irish Shows Association in Mullingar.
I said to myself, is there no one going to talk about a cow here?
"The whole day was spent talking about horses, because the people at the top table were all horse people.
"I said to myself, is there no one going to talk about a cow here?
"So Ned and myself went up to the top table and a guy called Lesley Rothwell from Co Kilkenny was the chairperson of the Irish Show Association at the time, and we said to him, what about a cow competition?
"Lesley asked us would we have a sponsor. We said we might.
"But there will be one condition attached to it - the final has to be held in Virginia.
"The following week, Ned and I went up to Virginia Milk Products, which is now Glanbia, to visit Brendan Smyth, and he loved the idea.
"We got a sponsorship of £1,000 for the finest cow in Ireland. That’s where the Bailey's cow started from.”
The Virgina Show has succesfully completed its 78th show.