Everything you need to know, from the weather forecast to good pitching – The Irish Times

With around 323 hectares of activities, exhibitions and logistics space ready and waiting in Rathenska, County Laois, and 300,000 people expected to attend, there is a lot to ask for when it comes to this year’s National Plowing Championships. Here’s what those making the trip should expect over the next three days:

the tickets

Organizers say travelers to the event must book in advance, although entry tickets for €30 a day can be purchased, provided online sales result in tickets being sold out. Those who book via the website can receive discounts and group rates, with prices dropping to €15 for students in certain cases.

Daily crowds can range from 70,000 to more than last year’s single-day record of 115,000 people. Weather will likely be a factor in attendance, although this year the arena is also larger.

How to get there

With 202 hectares of the 323-hectare event site set aside for cars, event organizers are appealing for people to carpool if they haven’t already considered doing so. The site can accommodate a lot of vehicles — roughly 175 per acre — but much of that space will be held as surplus or reserve. For those traveling long distances, it should be noted that there are no charging points for electric cars on offer.

Éireann Buses will operate branch services from Athy, Portlaoise and Portarlington train stations, while hundreds of buses will transport visitors from across the island to Ratheniska, which it is hosting for the second year in a row.

Weather conditions

“It’s absolutely plowing weather,” says Anna-Marie McHugh, associate managing director of the National Agricultural Association (NPA), who advised not to forget your “rainwear and raincoats.” The worst conditions are expected on Tuesday, with forecasters forecasting a wet day and a “wet and windy” night.

What follows sounds like a mixed bag, but the NPA says it has done a lot to prepare for as comfortable a festival as possible since last Friday’s deluge. “We had to do a lot of remedial work,” McHugh says. “We had oil tankers, we had cleaners, all of that. It’s not a place for runners this year, it’s one of those years (for runners).”

The main event

There is no plowing without plowing. This year about 350 people will participate in 24 national competitions. As a reflection of the evolution of plowing – the NPA was founded in 1931 – competitions range from more modern reversing plows to horse-drawn types. The winners of the event are announced each evening on the bandstand, all leading up to the final All-Ireland awards and the announcement of who will represent Ireland internationally.

What then?

Everything, basically. Arguably the greatest attraction of The Plowing is the sheer variety of things to see and do. To prevent confusion, there is a free interactive smartphone guide to guide attendees through this year’s event site using GPS and a search function to help navigate its 1,700 stands. The handy Find My Car feature should help reduce the amount of time you spend trudging through mud at the end of the day.

Local enterprise village

More than 30 small businesses from across Ireland will be featured in this year’s Local Enterprise Village. A mix of entrepreneurial talent, it will highlight operators and products ranging from children’s clothing and toys to artisan food and drink producers to sustainable fashion and beauty products.

Agricultural innovation

The Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena will feature over 50 Irish agricultural businesses, all of whom must apply and qualify for a table at the party. This year’s applicants include startups that have been operating for less than five years as well as their more established counterparts. “This could include anything from agricultural technology machinery to the development of different equipment that can be used on farms,” says McHugh. “There’s mentoring, and there’s very big prize money as well. What’s very important is… there’s a lot of leads generated.” Competition categories include the ACE Agritech Award and the IFAC Best Newcomer Award. The winner of the best startup will receive €10,000.

Retail arcades

A number of ‘mega’ marquees offer most things imaginable to festival-goers. Food, drink, homewares, lifestyle products and even financial advice will be offered in a sprawling area with hundreds of stalls. Such is its size, one of the most common questions organizers ask is what to do if you get lost. “It’s literally a stand-alone exhibition there, a huge show within a show,” McHugh says.

Not for the farm

There are plenty of oddities scattered around the expansive festival grounds. On Wednesday, Macra na Feirme is eyeing the prize, hoping to break the Guinness World Record of throwing more than 800 balls in one place at one time. The Irish engineering team will be on site with an ice cream serving robot and a twister machine. Anyone who feels they have seen a lot of plowing may be drawn to sheep shearing competitions, fashion shows, or even a place to thresh. Car shows, amusement rides, machinery shows and livestock shows are part of the annual festivities.

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