A GROUP of Clare landowners will fly the Banner flag at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska near Portlaoise this week, writes Dan Danaher.
Clare ploughing competitors are revving up to return to national championship ploughing, as there has been no county matches since the end of 2019 due to Covid-19 restrictions.
While Clare competitors haven’t enjoyed the same level of practice as other years, Clare Ploughing Association chairman, Pat Quinn, insists they will all do their best in their respective categories.
“There is a great tradition of ploughing in Clare. Clare competitors punch above their weight in view of the fact there is no real tillage farming or stubble ground in the county. We hold our own in the All-Ireland ploughing championships.
“A lot of the new tractors are so big their wheels aren’t suitable for ploughing. You need narrow wheels for ploughing.
“It is becoming expensive for new young entrants to compete in ploughing championships, particularly if they haven’t their own tractor. It is more or less a specialised tractor and plough that is needed.
“Even if young farmers have a tractor, they may need to buy a different set of wheels. There is a lot more to ploughing than just putting a plough on a tractor. You really need specialised gear.
“We have a young lad who bought a plough, but he doesn’t have at tractor. Unfortunately, he was due to be ploughing the same day, so we couldn’t give him the loan of our tractor.”
The Clare group includes Johnny White from Meelick, who will compete in the vintage section; Eddie Hannon, Clonlara, who takes part in the three furrow; Barry Donnellan, Kilmurry, participates in the U-28; Pat Quinn, Newmarket, and Ger Frost, Kilkishen, will battle it out with other competitors in the junior category while Tom Kennedy, Ennistymon, will enter the loy ploughing section. Francis Naughton from West Clare is also expected to compete in the vintage category.
There are still two surviving members of Clare Ploughing Association from 1961 who ploughed in Dromoland – Martin Liddy, Newmarket, and Des Heffernan, Clonlara.
Competition ploughing in Clare dates back as far as 1880 when ploughing matches were held in all parts of the county.
In 1960, competition ploughing in Clare received a major boost when John Corbett, Stonehall, and Michael Brassil, Latoon, won the Junior Horse team competition in the All-Ireland Ploughing Championship in New Ross, County Wexford.
In 1961, the first Clare Ploughing Association was set up under the chairman of Andrew Hogan, Sixmilebridge. A successful ploughing match was organised in Dromoland.
From then on ploughing went from strength to strength, with ploughing matches held annually from 1961 to 2011, apart from 1980 and 2001.
Ploughing matches were held in various venues around Newmarket-on-Fergus and adjoining parishes. When the association achieved success over the years it gave the competitors the incentive to achieve even more.
With the increase in stubble ploughing over the years, competitors had to travel to various county matches in Limerick, Cork, Tipperary, Galway, Offaly, Laois and Kilkenny to improve their skills over the years.
John Lyons, Sixmilebridge, Michael Power, Newmarket-on-Fergus, and Tom McNamara, Scariff, provided stubble ground for practice when it was available.
The first director to represent Clare at National Ploughing Association level was the late Andy McMahon, who later went on to become president of the NPA.
Martin Brassil, Newmarket-on-Fergus and Tom O’Grady, Oatfield, were first to compete in a junior tractor class in the All-Ireland Ploughing Championship in Killarney in 1961, while Des Heffernan, Meelick, took part in the minor tractor class that year.
Plans are underway to host Clare ploughing championships next February or March to mark the Clare association’s 60 years as well as a celebration function.