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16 October 2014
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Kirkistown Horse Ploughing Event

I was given this strange piece of metal and had put details on the "Your Place & mine" site.

Article by Brian Willis.

Co Down

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I was given this strange piece of metal and had put details on the "Your Place & mine" site asking if anyone knew what it was. "Ganaway" replied to say it was a device which went between a horse and farm implement and suggested I went to the Cloughey ploughing match to see it in operation.

So my wife, Angela , and I visited the 59th Northern Ireland Ploughing Championships at Mullen's Farm Kirkistown, near Cloughey, County Down. Angela took the notes during this outing. It was a huge event with thousands attending in the sunshine. It was not just a ploughing event but there were also many and varied trade stands, and lots of other activities such as vintage displays and fencing competitions for the Young Farmers Clubs. However, most eyes were on the NI Championship, for this competition was to decide who represented Northern Ireland at the World Ploughing Championships in Canada next year. But we were not there to watch modern tractors and ploughs, our visit was to see the horse ploughing and in particular we had arranged to meet with one of the province's most well known horse ploughmen, Bertie Hanna .

Bertie Hanna ploughing with Marcus and Adam
Bertie Hanna ploughing with Marcus and Adam

Stephen McNeill leading the team
Stephen McNeill leading the team.
The Leader

The horses are usually preceded by a "leader", in this case Stephen McNeill , whose task is to lead and control the horses.


The Horses

Both are Clydesdales. Adam , a bay, is three years old and Marcus , also a bay, is eight. They both stand at 17.2 hands high. Yes huge animals. It's a silly thing to say but can you imagine the "horse power" these two gentle creatures generate? I asked Stephen if he would stand aside for the top photo. Unchecked, the horses set off at a great lick with poor Bertie working hard to control the plough at this fast pace. So much for the ploughman plodding his weary way! No plodding with these two I can assure you. And Stephen was soon back at his rightful place in front, once the photo was taken.

Power Washing

The team was in the "Style and Appearance" class so how did they prepare the horses for the big day? Power wash. Yes the horses were power washed first thing that morning. Then the white "feathery bits" around the legs were cleaned with washing-up liquid and dried with sawdust. Most of the ornamentation was put on once they had arrived at the site. Those leather horse collars are about 130 years old.

The Man

Bertie Hanna has been ploughing with horses for about 30 years, just like his father before him (He used to "lead" for his father). He now owns eleven Clydesdales. And is there anyone else keen to carry on the Hanna tradition? Sadly no. One spectator pointed out to us that there wasn't a single horse ploughing competitor on site that day who was under 50 years of age. Are we witnessing the end of this tradition? It's a hugely expensive hobby. For hobby it is, with hardly any money coming in - perhaps the occasional horse drawn wedding coach or horse and cart ride, but nothing which would attract the kind of money incurred in the pastime.

Mind you one competitor, Benny Moen who had travelled from Monaghan (ROI) to take part, still uses his horses on his own farm to make potato drills

But what about that "Widget", my strange piece of metal? On to Widget>>

Read about Ferguson tractors


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