NATIONAL COUNTRY FAIR
Like country sports? Then this weekend out is for you. It is the biggest countryside event in Ireland, and is held annually at Borris House in Co. Carlow on Ireland’s August Bank Holiday weekend. By Nicole Buckler
Yes, the air was fresh. Yes there were lots of people, and yes being a townie I forgot my wellies. Which was completely ridiculous considering how much mud was around. In fact, we are not just talking mud. We are talking oceans of brown as deep and as wide as the normal human eye without cataracts can see. It rained. And rained. And rained some more. However country people are a hardy bunch and didn’t seem to notice that the skies were leaking horribly and that the mud was growing into small shoe-eating tsunami. But country folk have to be optimist seeing that this harvest has been the worst in living memory due to the offensive amount of rain that has been purged from the sky. But the good thing about this festival is that the organiser had every eventuality covered. There were tractors to pull our bogged cars out of the mud…and if you drive a car like me and have no towbar and nowhere to clip the tow rope onto, they had a bunch of men in the longest wellies I have ever seen to push you out of the carpark which had morphed into a swamp.
Despite the driving rain and the mud that seeped into my socks like an uninvited cold wet beast from hell, the day was a great introduction to the leisure pursuits of the countryside. As well as demonstrations of such country sports, there was also a large market-style shopping area where you can spend the money that should actually be used to pay the mortgage. And it’s busy. Up to 15,000 people turn up to the event every year, both townies and culchies, plus people from afar who just want to have a nosey parker at Borris House. It is the ancestral home of the MacMorrough Kavanaghs, High Kings of Leinster the past 550 years and one of Ireland’s best conserved Country Houses. Even I was wondering if there were crown jewels to steal. But my muddy footprints in the dining hall would have totally given me away.
Of the sports on display, the event that draws the crowds is medieval jousting. From Nottingham, the Medieval Legends are a team of stuntmen who joust with lances on horseback. They took me back to the 14th century with their acts of horsemanship and jousting skills. And it did occur to me that even ugly skinny guys look awfully handsome in armour. It was the distant thunder of mighty steeds over the fanfare of trumpets that sent a tingle of anticipation through me. The Black Knight had come to do battle. I marvelled at the skill and prowess of the jousting team (who have appeared in many movies as knights in shining and cloth-like armour) wondering if good would triumph over evil. And then I didn’t care, I just was rooting for whoever looked the most handsome. As my shoes filled with more mud. I wondered if it was anti-aging. I could have the hottest feet in the land by sunset. Once the lances came out I realised that this was not a fairy tale any more…someone could lose a spleen.
Click here to watch a video of jousting.
Away from the knights in rather rained-on armour, I set off to see the birds of prey. And by that I don’t mean deeply religious women walking up Croagh Patrick. From Scotland, Phoenix Falconry is a professional team of falconers who flew birds of prey twice each day in the entertainment arena. The cost of training and keeping these birds boggles the mind and wallet. But they are just so mesmerizing you could never be inclined to set them free or put them in an oven, basted with garlic at 180 degrees for 1.5 hours. Instead owners give them scraps of wild rodent-like animals as a thanks for spending their lives with them. But still, they could really fly away at any time and usually don’t: a testament to how good scraps of rodent really are.
And for those who like a good solid Celtic event where grown men throw large rocks like angry warriors, there is the Irish Strongman Challenge. And there really is nothing better than watching huge men throw poles about, and by that I don’t mean large people from the Eastern European country. This is the guy you want to have around the house when you have a bookshelf you want moved without actually taking out the books.
CLAY PIGEON SHOOTING
You can even have a go at clay pigeon shooting, as long as you haven’t had 6 pints beforehand, and this especially applies if you are a child. A great country sport, clay pigeon shooting is a pastime even townies like. And why wouldn’t they like it? They can get in some shooting practise for when they get a gun pulled on them when they are in the hood.
For those who like their sports a bit quieter, there is archery. Even better is the children’s archery: kiddie-sized bows and arrows were used and supervised by members of a local archery club. The kids thought they were wielding weapons dangerous enough to threaten Santa for more presents: yet all the while the parents knew that they couldn’t even scare a pair of bunny slippers with the archery gear.
There was also fly fishing for those who like to catch their dinner rather than face supermarket queues, and even ferret racing for cuteness at speed. There was pony rides for the smaller ones, plus a wellie boot throwing competition… believe me I was at the finishing line trying to steal a pair unnoticed.
But mostly, you can just eat a big and stupidly good burger while watching genteel ladies ride side-saddle in the main arena. I learnt (while eating the aforementioned burger) that if anyone stumbles across an old side saddle in granny’s shed, then you are sitting on a goldmine. Ebay the thing, I was told over the loudspeaker, you’ll make a fortune. My granny never rode a horse but I was still inclined to check her shed.
Click here to watch a side saddle demo video.
The National Country Fair is held every year on the August bank holiday. For more info, see www.nationalcountryfair.ie
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