Crowds descended as expected on Ratheniska for the opening day of the 2013 National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska.
President of Ireland Michael D Higgins cut the ribbon to officially launch the championships just after midday on Tuesday September 24 at a misty but rain free Ratheniska.
Hundreds cheered the president and his smiling wife Sabina on the grandstand, but thousands more were not even aware of the presidential visit, such is the vast size of the site, where over 1,400 tradestands and arenas and food stalls were already busy trading.
In his address, President Higgins spoke of the need for land for young farmers.
“The greatest of all challenges is enabling young farmers to access the land to make a living, only 6 percent of farmers are under 35, and 51 percent are over 55,” he said, adding that less than half a percent of land was sold each year.
He noted that latest CAO figures showed agriculture had the “steepest rise of all courses” while praising Macra’s efforts to help young farmers through land leasing and shared farming.
He praised NPA head Anna May McHugh as a “great heroine of Irish ploughing”, and congratulated world champion ploughers John Whelan and Eamon Treacy.
NPA Chairman James Sutton called on the crowds to support their countrymen in action over the next three days.
“Your attendence is what makes this event a success,” he said.
Following blessings by Bishop Nulty, Archdeacon Murray and Dr Heather Morris, the President snipped a bright green ribbon with the help of NPA President Jimmy Grainger.
Laois’ musical talent displayed their talents to the president, with Ratheniska Marching Band playing the Presidential Salute and the National Anthem, and singer Aideen Morrin singing the ‘Song of the Plough’, while popular singer Tommy Fleming performed “A Song for Ireland”.
Over the next two days, over 200,000 visitors are expected to flock to the ploughing. With the rain expected to stay away until Thursday evening, minimum traffic delays are predicted.
Ploughing admission is €20 for adults, €15 for students and seniors, and children under 12 are free. See www.npa.ie for full event details.