South Tipperary was well represented at the recent National Ploughing Championships - not only in the crowds that flocked to Athy but among the prize winners.
Two of the younger competitors really made their mark on the competition field and took home the overall Under 21 prize and Under 28 prize.
The county’s youngest winner was a fifth year student from Cashel Community School, Lorcan Bergin. Lorcan, who lives in Rosegreen, emerged as the overall winner in the Under 21 category. Along the way he claimed the Under 21 junior two furrow conventional match plough class.
Lorcan is following in the steps of his father Larry, who himself is no mean ploughman and finished fourth in the national senior competition.
Taking the overall Under 21 title is impressive for such a young man.
A few years more experienced than Lorcan is John O’Brien, from Poulmucka Ploughing Association. John won the Under 28 junior grade two-furrow conventional match plough class, beating off 11 other competitors in the All Ireland grade class.
To make it to the national competition John qualified as the best Under 28 ploughman in South Tipperary, winning three local matches.
For both young men the qualify road to the Ploughing Championships has already begun for next year! As last year they will compete in the Ballylooby ploughing match, at the end of October, then next month they will take part in the Poulmucka ploughing match and the Dualla ploughing competition.
This year they had almost a year to prepare for the Ploughing Championships once they had qualified and they are hoping for the same this year.
John explains that from November they might take part in matches in Urlingford, Mooncoin or Freshford as practice. In April they will take a break for the summer months but will get back to the field in late August, as the Ploughing Championships approach.
This year they travelled to Mogelly, in County Cork, as well as Lismore and Knockanore in Waterford, in the weeks before going to Athy.
Other preparations they might undertake include modifications to their machinery and checking out new inventions in the skill.
Competitions starts in the morning once they reach the All Ireland match. Ploughing begins at 9.30am on match day, for 30 minutes. Then the judges inspect the work for about 40 minutes before the competitors start up again for nearly four hours of work, including closing up the earlier open run.
Results are called on the same evening, at about 6pm, from the main stand and on public address across the whole Ploughing gathering.
“You’d know if you did well, it’s usually fairly close and you’re left thinking ‘I might not have got it’,” John says of that waiting time.
His win this year was all the more sweet as he did better than his second place last year, and third place the year before.
Having won his grade he now moves up to the senior grade.
“I’ve been ploughing in the All Ireland since I was old enough for a tractor licence, at 16,” John says. He began even earlier in the local competitions, when he was 12 or 13, in the Under 21 class, as it is the youngest class. He is now 24. “You usually don’t start on your own, your father starts you and my father started me. He ploughs in the All Ireland too in the two-furrow mounted vintage class.”
People might find it surprising to hear John has not gone in to farming as a career. The youngest in his family John is the only one who has followed his father into the competition, but it’s just a hobby for him. His brother is farming but John works in Cork in a pharmaceutical company. He goes home to the farm at weekends to practice.
This year’s Ploughing Championship was another huge success for the National Ploughing Association, with attendance up 10,000 to 190,000 over the three days.
Anna May McHugh, Managing Director of the National Ploughing Association said “we are truly delighted with this year’s event, particularly with the fantastic number of visitors we had on the 80th anniversary of the National Ploughing Association, which all started back in 1931 on this very site. I would like to sincerely thank all involved for their help, support and cooperation for making this year’s event such a special one ”.
Next year the National Ploughing Championships heads south to Heathpark, New Ross, County Wexford , between September 25 and 27.