CountryWide Live: A Culture Night Special

Last Friday, September 22nd, venues and public spaces the length and breadth of the country opened their doors to a night of free entertainment as Ireland celebrated Culture Night.

As an occasional contributor to RTÉ’ Radio One’s “CountryWide” programme, I was delighted when they invited me to be a part of its Culture Night special — a live recording in the beautiful Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle. I readily accepted.

Now all I had to do was figure out what story to share with both the live audience as well as those tuning in as normal on Saturday morning!

I opted for “ag. shows,” the topic front and centre in my mind as I looked forward to attending my first Ploughing Championships that following week. The Screggan event would take place just two days prior to the “CountryWide” recording, and with a visit up home to factor in as well, the turnaround time on the script would be tight.

However, if I’ve gleaned anything from my years of practice, it’s that there’s nothing like a looming deadline to light the fire under a writer! After an early start on Friday morning and thanks to some ruthless editing by my Mammy, I got it done.

And here’s the finished product. (My segment starts around the 12:30 minutes mark, and you’ll find the full transcript below.)

I hope you enjoy it 🙂

I text Jack in a fit of panic. “Did you remember the wellies?” With just two days to go until my inaugural trip to Screggan, both of which I’d spend working, time was of the essence. Not that I’d much to prepare, really. My priority was looking the part. And for a townie like myself, that meant  — at the very minimum — clean wellies.

Wellies that, Jack informed me, he had forgotten to grab on his way back from the farm. He’d go back for them, he said. He would, is right, I thought, looking at his freshly laundered polo-shirts, jeans, and underpants stacked neatly on the kitchen table — products of my afternoon’s hard graft.

I was in rare form that Sunday night, cursing the curse that had seen Mayo suffer yet another devastating defeat at the hands and feet of the Dubs. It was actually therapeutic to take out my frustrations on the muck-encrusted wellies, going at them with the scrubbing brush as if my life — not least, my reputation as a farmer’s girlfriend— depended on it.

Not that the Ploughing would be my first agricultural show. No, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I’d bestowed that honour on Tinahely last summer — where, in fact, I’d purchased the aforementioned wellies.

I’d actually headed off that morning in my converse trainers, waiting until we were stopped at traffic lights to carefully apply some mascara and the lovely new coral-coloured lipstick I’d purchased in honour of the occasion. On arrival at the Wicklow location, however, and stepping out into a soggy day and an equally soggy field, I quickly realized that it would have served me better to worry less about the lipstick and more about my footwear. Off to the welly-boots tent!

Well, who’d have known that the footwear and fashion tents at these ag shows were such caves of wonders! I had never imagined myself salivating over a Tweed blazer or a quilted jacket, but Dubarry, the divils, could seduce even the most skeptical townie.

My second ag show was an olive branch of sorts. After weeks of playing second fiddle to the silage — and making my discontent patently obvious— I’d been promised a full day in Jack’s company. That we’d spend it on 250 acres in Offaly, amidst a sea of machinery, livestock, and checked shirts at the Tullamore show, was neither here nor there. I was just looking forward to a day out with my man. Besides, who’s to say there’s no romance in rare breeds?

With Jack being a dry stock farmer, I hadn’t spent much time in close proximity to dairy cows. At Tullamore, I watched a woman leading out, what appeared to me to be, a rather sad, emaciated looking creature, its hip bones protruding sharply from beneath its black and white coat.

“Jesus, that one doesn’t look well,” I said under my breath.

“That’s what they’re supposed to look like, would you believe?” Jack said patiently. “They’re known as “the supermodels.” While the likes of Naomi, Cindi, and Kate might beg to differ, when I squinted I could sort of see the parallels — tall, skinny, and long-legged as the black and white milkers were.

I thrilled at the prospect of my first Ploughing Championships. The highlight of the culchie calendar, this year’s show was expected to draw in crowds of over a quarter of million. This was Electric Picnic for farmers. And I was ready to get down.

What I wasn’t ready for, mind you, was the wettest day in perhaps the history of the Ploughing! By lunchtime, the Screggan site looked less like the Ploughing Championships and more like a midlands remake of the movie Swamp Thing. In an effort to salvage our waterlogged breakfast rolls, Jack and I sought refuge in the nearest tent, only to find ourselves amongst the crowd waiting for Richie Kavanagh — he of “Aon focal eile” fame — to take to the stage. I’ll tell you, you’ve never seen two breakfast rolls disappearing faster.

Rather appropriately, it was the livestock which had the last laugh, warm and dry in their cosy, covered, stalls, while we humans slopped and sludged through mud and puddles up to our knees.

But, sure, It wouldn’t be the ploughing without a bit of rain. And we were all in it together. Stars from the world of rugby, hurling, TV, fashion, and, of course, farming —milling around, eyeing up the machinery and the animals . . . and some of the young ones eyeing up each other, too . . . maybe with a view to finding, or becoming, an on-farm spouse. 

And despite being in muck up to my oxters — to use an Ulster turn of phrase — I thoroughly enjoyed it. I even went so far as to enter a raffle to win my very own heifer. Much to Jack’s relief, I didn’t win. 

Image of cow in pen

Sure what would I be doing with a heifer, anyway? What was I thinking. It must’ve been the intoxicating effects of the Ploughing, or, a water-logged brain.

But that’s the risk you take when you introduce a townie to the bright lights and dizzying heights of real show business — ag. show business.  Here’s to next year!

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