Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The County Agricultural Show Athy

Last Sunday’s County Agricultural Show in the Showgrounds, Athy was a very enjoyable event, made all the more enjoyable by the good weather while the rain held off. This was the twenty-fourth County Show held in Athy since the event was revived in 1995. The County Agricultural Show in Athy goes back over 100 years, but unfortunately I don’t have any verifiable information to hand relating to the early shows or the men and women who organised them. The South Kildare Horticultural and Agricultural Show Society was incorporated as a limited company in the early 1900s and that Society acquired lands which today incorporate the sports grounds catering for Gaelic football, rugby, Association football and tennis. Those sporting facilities form a unique sporting complex in the context of an Irish provincial town. It offers huge opportunities for shared high class integrated sporting facilities which individual clubs could not afford to provide. If such a cooperative approach was undertaken by the clubs, it would improve immeasurably the sporting facilities available in this area. The County Agricultural Show restarted in 1995 after a period of 25 years following the holding of the last agricultural show in 1970. That show was the twenty-fourth and last show organised by the committee which came together in 1946. Amongst those committee members was a former rural science teacher from the local Vocational School, county Galway man, Stephen Cullinan. He was just 28 years of age when the Agricultural Show was restarted in Athy at the end of World War II. That same year Cullinan had resigned from his teaching post in the Vocational School to take up a position as technical adviser to the local firm, Minch Nortons. He had been a driving force in the setting up of Athy’s Young Farmers Club in March 1944 and six months later the Athy club in conjunction with Young Farmers clubs in Kilmallock and Mooncoin came together to form a national organisation which eventually became known as Macra na Feirme. Stephen Cullinan and Paddy Kehoe of Kilcoo were appointed joint secretaries of the national organisation and later Stephen took over sole responsibility for the honorary positions of secretary and treasurer. Athy was the location of the first summer gathering held by Macra na Feirme in 1946. Was it I wonder the catalyst which led to the revival of the County Agricultural Show that year? Stephen Cullinan, whose dynamic leadership lead to the formation of Athy’s Young Farmers Club and the emergence of Macra na Feirme as a national organisation died on 11th January 1951, just a few weeks short of his 33rd birthday. His loss to Macra na Feirme and to Irish agriculture in general was keenly felt. The revival of the show in 1995 after a lapse of 25 years owed much to the initiative of Anna May McHugh who encouraged and cajoled Liam Dunne, Majella Conlan, John Costello, Stephen Perry, Padraig Murphy and others to organise what was once the county’s premier agricultural show. Anna May was elected President of the organising committee in 1995, with Liam Dunne as chairman, Majella Conlan as honorary secretary and John Costello as honorary treasurer. Liam Dunne, a local farmer from Bray, Athy, had been active in the local Macra na Feirme branch for many years and in 1978 was elected to Macra’s national council. Nine years later he was elected National Chairman of Macra na Feirme. The current chairman of the County Show Committee is Tom Kelly, with Tony Martin as secretary and Fiona Rainsford as treasurer. The current of president of the Athy Agricultural Show Society is Brian Ashmore who was a member of the organising committee of the pre-1970 event. Organising an annual show on the scale of the County Show requires the cooperation and involvement of many persons. Those men and women make an enormous contribution to their local community and for the most part their time-consuming active involvement is largely taken for granted. It is probably for the same reason that those involved in the earlier County Shows cannot now be identified. In this the twenty-fourth year of what may be the revival of the County Show our thanks must go to all the volunteers including members involved in organising and running the show. Teresa Aldridge and her sister Ber who look after the crafts, home produce and flower sections. Emma O’Brien who organises the kids’ zone and the County Show’s Facebook while catering is in the capable hands of Robert Reid. The Athy Gaelic Football Club house was the venue for the extraordinary lego display, all organised by Mark Dunne who had dual responsibility of organising car parking. Maurice O’Flaherty was responsible for the hugely enjoyable dog show. There are many many others involved in running the show whose names I don’t have to hand but to all is extended a hearty congratulations and thanks for a hugely enjoyable County Agricultural Show.

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