WITH the county having tasted fleeting sporting success in recent years, Clare has finally been given reason for celebration, with Tom Kennedy finding victory at the end of a scythe. Having entered the All-Ireland Scythe Championships on numerous occasions over the last decade, this year he has reigned victorious, pipping close competitors such as fellow Clareman Gerry Mullins to the crown.
The championships, part of the Trim Haymaking Festival in Scurlogstown County Meath, have aimed to revive the old traditions, sports and way of life of the country. There has been quite a significant Clare influence over the years, with Tulla man, Michael O’Brien, having broken the world record for sheaf throwing in 2009.
In terms of scythe cutting, each competitor is handed a plot to cut. With just seven minutes on the clock, their challenge is to have their plot as evenly cut as possible.
“It’s a great honour,” Tom claimed. “It’s great to carry on the tradition of cutting. I first began scythe cutting in the ’60s as a teenager, where I cut some hay with my father. However, I left if then for a long while.”
Despite this hiatus, his passion for cutting never dwindled. He entered the competition in the early 2000s. As well as his father’s influence, he has largely dedicated this victory to rival cutter, Paul Cotter, from Lahinch.
“Without Paul, I wouldn’t have won,” he recalled. “He has had a major influence on me. He has travelled all around the country to different festivals, and has won the competition five times. He’s an incredible competitor.”
He also hailed the competition, branding it a “marvellous spectacle”.
“It’s a great occasion, with great interest, a big audience and old animals all around. Some of the judges are in their ’90s, which just highlights the passion that exists.”
While the Scythe Cutting Championships only date back 10 years or so, the festival’s origins can be traced back to 1968.
“It was an Olympic year,” spokesperson for the festival John Marron said. “Following the dwindling numbers of the football club in the 1950s, it was decided by Pat Farrelly that the area would start up some kind of athletics. The Dubliners were welcomed to the opening, which was also attended by high-profile people such as Gay Byrne.”
Commenting on the scythe cutting, he praised Tom’s “resilience”.
“I know this is not his first time,” he claimed. “Guys like him and Paul Cotter, put hours and hours into this. Their determination means they practise for hours on end. It’s in their blood.”