What an extraordinary event the Ploughing Championships is.
While I have seen French presidents make a pilgrimage to the main agricultural show in Paris, it was mainly for a photo opportunity to show the public a rapport with rural France.
The Irish version is different. One got the impression that President Higgins wanted to be there and, that he went to real trouble to deliver a speech on a topic he believed in.
The fact that he was almost an hour and a half late for lunch while he looked at the actual ploughing and met people may have amazed the cream of the ambassadors accredited to Ireland – especially when the formidable Anna May McHugh declared that she was sure her guests were hungry and said that they would start lunch before the President came.
When he and his wife eventually arrived, everyone politely rose and clapped and the day continued.
From a personal point of view, I had a few farm related issues I wanted to sort out (see Home Farm) but as I searched out the individual stands, I wanted to discuss my issues with, I came across exhibitors I had never seen before.
It really struck me that as well as being a hardcore farming event, the Ploughing has become one of the very few occasions used by all kinds of companies and agencies with almost nothing to do with farming but who wish – in a real way – to demonstrate their existence and worth to the broad non-urban public.
The Department of Foreign Affairs had a large stand with a fascinating history on the League of Nations, an organisation set up after World War 1 and, while a failure, it was the forerunner of the present day United Nations.
What its relevance was to the Ploughing Championships was I had no idea, but that didn’t diminish its interest and educational value.
There was also a presence from the Alzheimer’s Society, An Garda Síochána, Bus Eireann, specialist career guidance for those wanting to go into the construction industry as well as numerous colleges and various religions.
While for anyone wanting to get a feel for the role of various Government departments, from the Departments for Children to Disability to Justice and Tourism, all staffed with real people anxious to help instead of the interminable answering machines one gets the rest of the year.
I hope that those non-farming orientated exhibitors found their presence worthwhile. In my view, it adds to the event enormously and the organisers have ensured that they do not crowd out the hard core stands and businesses of real interest and importance to those in actual farming.