From 1996 to 2013, I think I missed three National Ploughing Championships.

Young, free and single, it was easy to head off for a couple of days without a care in the world.

Unfortunately, for one reason or another, I hadn’t managed to get to the event since 2013.

In 2019, I was adamant that I was going the year after, but, as we all know, COVID-19 stopped all proceedings for the past two years.

So, when it was announced that the Ploughing was definitely happening this year, I was going, come hell or high water!

Tuesday was the day selected, for no real reason other than it was the first day and if the weather happens to be bad, there usually is not as much muck on the first day!

Thankfully, the weather was perfect. It was fine, dry and sunny and the fields were as dry and hard as the road.

Early start

So, at 3.20am on Tuesday, off we sailed from Donegal; my wife Dawn, eldest daughter Gemma and I.

We deemed the one-day trek up and down the country plus 10 hours walking around the show just a bit too much for the two smaller children, so thank God for a good babysitter.

James Strain on farm with his daughter.

There aren’t many who would come at that time of the morning! Of course, they all thought I was mad leaving at that time, but I knew I wasn’t.

I always like to try to be parked in the field at 7.30am, get the flask and the sandwiches into me and in the gate for 8am.

As the D'unbelievables used to say, “we thought we’d have a clear run at the day, so we’d the dinner this morning at half eight”.

And in the gate I was going at 8am after a completely clear run from Donegal.

From what I heard later, we picked the right day, as there was delays on the M50 on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Cover a lot of ground

You can cover a lot of ground early in the morning, before the crowds start to gather, and that we did, up and down rows like there was no tomorrow, me taking social media pictures for Inishowen Co-op at every opportunity, Dawn trying to figure out what kind of new horsebox I was going to buy her and Gemma trying to figure out where the Aldi stand was so she could get herself one of those blue cowboy hats that everyone was wearing!

Family day out

I had no real intention of doing any business and was just there for a family day out, but there are always a few bits and pieces of new stuff that catch your eye, that may get looked back on at a later date.

It was lovely to be back walking about as normal and seeing everyone enjoying themselves. It was my intention to be heading for the jeep at 4.30pm to get out before the crowd but we were still rambling about at 6 o’clock.

We had a handy enough run out to the M7 and up through Dublin and were heading in the door of the house at 11.20pm. A long day, but a good one! Hopefully, it won’t be nine years until I’m back!

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