I was delighted to join my neighbours at the Dunmanway Agricultural Society Show at the historic Ballabuidhe Racecourse last weekend.
In an agricultural community these wonderful events are the glue which hold the community together and give it a real sense of identity. The Dunmanway Show is renowned as one of the highlights on the showing circuit each Summer. Walking around the show grounds is like looking at a slice of country life. From pedigree animals to home baking; everything is on display.
Now in its 69th year the event in the hometown of Sam Maguire was opened with some local pride by Independent Councillor, Declan Hurley who is the newly elected Mayor of County Cork. Apart from the hotly contested classes for horses, ponies, cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, domestic arts, horticulture and dogs, there was a wide variety of activities to keep spectators entertained. There is always a wide range of sideshows; including Macra na Feirme competitions, most appropriately dressed lady and gent, bonny baby competition and much more. In his opening remarks Mayor Hurley played tribute to the many volunteers who have kept this unique rural showcase going and he appealed to the public and the shows sponsors to continue their support. Until 1961 when Jack Lynch closed the West Cork Railway Dunmanway was the market town and centre of West Cork. The intervening years have been difficult as the replacement employment has largely folded. Even the transport routes have fallen victim to political shenanigans as Bantry is signposted on the N71 coastal route which is 30km longer than the straight road through Dunmanway which isn’t even signposted until you get to Bandon. So putting Dunmanway back on the map is not just a slogan and the Dunmanway Show and Ballabuidhe Festival are emphatic statements of Dunmanway’s position at the very heart of West Cork.
This year the threatening clouds held off resulting in a highly successful and well attended show. The setting is part of the unique atmosphere of this rural bun fest, the natural amphitheatre of Dromleena Lawn which is also the setting of the famous Ballabuidhe Races each August which have been running for over 400 years. Chairman Reggie Chambers said the show’s programme catered for young and old and they were delighted to be hosting Horse Sport Ireland’s All-Ireland Young Showperson Championship.
Indeed even to a townie like me the show and its judgely huddles for Cattle, Horses, Sheep and dogs gave a fascinating insight into country life and the skills in traditional husbandry and stock rearing at the heart of rural Ireland. For me it was the detail of the judging categories which fascinated “Three year old gelding to make a hunter” , “Ped Friesan Cow” “Ped Belgian Blue Bull.” But for me it was the “Domestic” shows which showed the deep community roots of the show from the youngest to the oldest in the Glamorous Granny Competition. “There was a lady there last year and she’d put Michelle Obama to shame,” says Kitty Cotter, the show secretary. “She was wearing a 1960s outfit — a lovely long skirt with a frilly blouse and belt; she had her hair up and earrings to match.”
So there were entries from children in the local schools, the Dunmanway Community Garden, needlework from the clients of the Daycare Centre and even prize winning marmalade from the Dunmanway Community Hospital. The Community resonates in many of the prizes given to winners as when 16 year old Katie Maher proudly presented the Paul Maher Memorial Cup in honour of her late father. Throw in farm-skills contests, a farmers’ market and a craft fair among countless other events, and you’ve got the makings of a great day out.
Prize cows, giant turnips, bonny babies, bonny grans and scrummy scones… country shows are a pure slice of the Irish summer.
But most of all it is a social event, a way for the community to come together, to share and to take pride in its activities and to say Rural Ireland and its hardworking and talented people count. Long may it continue.