By Evelyn Donellan
In January 1944 Mr J.J Bergin, Secretary National Ploughing Association arrived to town accompanied by Mr Cotter, Agricultural Instructor, Roscommon to examine a field in the area with a view to hosting the National Ploughing Championships there.
A meeting in the town itself on the day, had a large attendance from the farming community in the wider environs. Satisfied with the inspection Messrs Bergin & Cotter the National Ploughing Committee decision to go ahead thirlled members of the farming and business communities during the period known as the Emergency.
The field was was about one and a half miles from Ballinasloe. Previous ploughing competitions held in the area had attracted the attention of the National Ploughing Committee, this coupled with the co-operation of farmers and people of the locality had left a positive impression on both participants and spectators. John Cobban, Shanboley and John Cunningham were highly commended for their trojan work in the successful organising of similar events. Mr Cotter was confident that a substantial grant would be given from the Agriculture Committees of Galway & Roscommon.
A general committee was formed which included members of the local clergy, County Managers, Galway & Roscommon, Secretaries, Agricultural Committees of both counties; members of Ballinasloe Urban District Council & Chamber of Commerce; business people and members of the farming community within a five mile radius.
An advertisement in newspapers with the heading “God Speed the Plough” appealed to the public for funds and assured donors of a receipt to be issued on the spot from committee members, Chairman John Cobban; Hon Sec John Cunningham and Bank of Ireland Agent, John Fitzpatrick the Treasurer. Readers were encouraged to “give generously & give promptly”. It was said “the greatest ever-known assembly of wheel ploughs would be seen at Ballinasloe when the four champions from each of seventeen counties would bring their own ploughs to be drawn by eighty pairs of splendid farm horses loaned to the committee by the farmers of Galway and Roscommon”. The two mile road leading to the site of the national event was repaired in good time for the comfort of travellers both human and animal.
The “swing” style of ploughing was to make a return enabling all counties to compete in the championship on “terms as nearly equal as can be designed”. A standard of flat ploughing had been established in Leinster & Munster, but not in the north or west, thus excluding Galway from national competitions. This style of ploughing was generally unsuitable for use in the west due to high rainfall, which didn’t allow the soil to dry sufficiently for spring sowing. At that time Galway was the only county to have a printed book of rules for the guidance of county competitions. After discussions it was agreed to adopt a new national standard of ploughing referred to as “bowl-shaped” – a compromise between the Leinster flat and the Connacht partly upright ploughing. It was to be performed using a wheel plough and coulter, suiting all participants as it needed to be well skinned and packed.
The County Galway Junior Cross Country Competition was also held on the same day. The All-Ireland Turf Cutting Competition had seen a large influx of people when held in Ballinasloe in 1930s and similar attendance was expected at the ploughing event.
Judging by a contest held in Portlaoise the previous year it was expected the ploughmen would eat two tons of bread. The ladies of the local branch of the Red Cross were enlisted to help in catering for the masses.
On the eve of the event the town welcomed over eighty ploughmen and many officials who were accommodated in local hotels and private houses.
The 14th National Ploughing Championships were held at Ballinasloe on 9 Feb 1944 in a forty- acre field at Ashford, provided by Michael Naughton, which had not been ploughed since famine times. The contests were to begin at 11am and end at 4pm with results announced at 7pm in Ballinasloe. Competitions were held for senior, junior, under 30, under 21 and for the best pair of horses.
Several traders attended advertising their products to farmers. One such was Golden Grain, a mercurial seed dressing, manufactured by Hygeia, Galway, said to yield the perfect grain, beet, mangold and turnip crops! Other attractions included tossing the sheaf and guessing weights. A Ceilidhe and dance was held in the Town Hall that night.
In 1944 ploughing was predominantly horse drawn, as mechanisation did not fully evolve until the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, due to shortages brought about by World War II. The first tractor ploughing class was introduced in the National Ploughing in Cloghran, Dublin in 1942.
In excess of seventy ploughmen from seventeen counties took part in Ashford in 1944, with an attendance in the region of seven thousand. Dignitaries in attendance were Bishop of Clonfert Most Rev Dr Dignan, Patron; Dr Ryan, Minister for Agriculture; Mr F. Fahy, Ceann Comhairle; Mr P. Smith, Parliamentary Secretary to Mr de Valera and Mr D. Allen, T.D., President of the National Ploughing Association. Farmers in the area provided about one hundred and fifty horses to the visiting teams.
Senior: 1st Wexford 2nd Wicklow 3rd Kilkenny; Junior: 1st Galway 2nd Westmeath 3rd Tipperary North; Senior Individual; William Kehoe, Wexford; runner up, Stephen Dempsey, Wexford: Junior Individual M. Ward, Galway, E O’Meara, Tipperary North.
The Wilson Prize, a complete set of harness, went to the ploughman (under 30) who secured the highest marks in National Style Ploughing. The standard of ploughing was said to be greater than the previous year especially in the youth competitions. The R.D.S Cup for the best pair of Irish Draught horses was withdrawn as entries were not up to standard. Patrick Mulvey, Cloniffe, Thomastown won a prize for the best pair of farm horses.
The ladies committee were held in very high esteem as the efficiency in which they provided hearty meals to attendees was said to set a precedent for future events throughout Ireland.
Later that year a social, organised by members of the local ploughing committee, was held at O’Carroll’s Hotel. Mr John Cobban presided as eighty people were catered for by hotel staff. Mr Nicholas Cotter stated that of the fourteen annual National Ploughing Championships held so far, Ballinasloe was the most successful. This success was largely due to the magnificent work of the ladies who looked after the catering, the farmers and the public who gave great encouragement for the event. Others who paid tribute to the high standard of hospitality were Rev Fr Hughes, Adm., Chief Supt. Doyle, Supt O’Halloran and Maurice Glennon, Principal of the Vocational School. Mrs Cunningham replied on behalf of the ladies.
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