ALISON HEALY, Food and Farming Correspondent
THE ORGANISERS of the National Ploughing Championships, which begin today near New Ross, Co Wexford, have estimated that if a visitor spent a minute at every stand it would take 20 hours to get around the site.
About 20km of metal walkways have been laid to keep visitors free from mud as they move around. The three-day event is expected to attract about 180,000 people, who will need parking for up to 60,000 cars.
The site, which uses the farms of David O’Dwyer and Peter Kehoe, is about 10km east of New Ross.
Gardaí have drawn up a detailed traffic plan centring on five major routes into the site, and they are encouraging visitors to follow these sign-posted routes to avoid delay and traffic disruption.
The peak traffic is expected at 7am-11am and 4pm-8pm. One-way systems on roads leading to the site will be in operation in the mornings and will switch direction in the evenings.
Bus Éireann is running special services from Wexford and Waterford train stations to Ballinaboola, where a shuttle bus will take passengers to the site.
The staging of the event in New Ross has given a major boost to hotels and guest houses in the Wexford area at a traditionally quiet time of the year. Last year’s event in Athy generated €36 million in visitor spending and organisers will be hoping this year’s event does the same.
While wellingtons are always advisable at the farming event, Met Éireann said the southeast was not bearing the brunt of this week’s bad weather. Forecaster David Rogers said outbreaks of rain were expected in the southeast today but there was no indication heavy downpours were on the way.
Yesterday a spokeswoman for the National Ploughing Association said no rain had fallen and the forecast was good for the region. “We have no concerns about the weather,” she said. “The ground underfoot is still dry. Even if we get rain now, it will be just on the surface.” Mr Rogers said tomorrow would be bright and sunny but a few showers were likely, while Thursday would probably be the best day of the week, with “a reasonable amount of sunshine” forecast.
President Michael D Higgins will officially open the event at noon today. Taoiseach Enda Kenny is expected to visit on Thursday, while other visitors during the three days will include Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture.
As well as ploughing competitions, the event includes machinery exhibitions, livestock shows, forestry exhibitions, sheepdog trials, lamb shearing and fashion shows.
The Samaritans have two stands at the event, following what it describes as “a huge response from the public” at previous championships. Ann Barron, director of the Waterford and South East Samaritans, said the wet summer had proven a huge challenge to farmers and their families throughout the country.
“This, coupled with the effects of rural isolation and cutbacks to local services such as public transport, may have had a devastating effect on the mental wellbeing of many rural people,” she said.
The Samaritans are among some 1,300 stand-holders at the event. The stands are offering everything from machinery and cars to beauty treatments and kitchen accessories.
This year’s event will see the largest ever number of exhibitors, demonstrations and stands in the food sector.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin will open the Good Food Ireland’s stand today, which will be hosting cookery demonstrations from chefs such as Darina Allen and Catherine Fulvio, and will be offering food tastings from artisan food producers.
Supermarket chains Aldi, Lidl, Tesco and SuperValu will all be highlighting their locally produced food at the event
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