In Ancient times the Celts held their great festivals and gatherings in the month of August or Lunasa as it was then known. It was the month of the harvest when the first berries ripened. It is therefore not altogether inappropriate that the local farming community of Mohill and its hinterland chose this month to host their annual show.
For the farmer August is never quite the same from year to year. Each summer he goes head to head against the elements in an eternal battle between man and nature. It is a struggle that has been repeated again and again over the millennia. While the weather is always variable there is one constant every year, and as August draws to a close and one starts to notice the first drawing in of the evenings, thoughts invariably started turning to the Show. In our house it was never known as Mohill Show, it was simply “The Show”, and at that it was the grand dam of all shows. Its roots dating back to the pre famine times of Lord Leitrim and ultimately revived in the 1920’s by a dynamic Padre known as Canon Masterson. Our Show, for us there really is no event quite like it. There was just something about this particular day when the country folk took control of the town, when they brought out their finest stock and produce and when the world was turned topsy-turvy for a few short hours. The long summer days in the fields or backbreaking hours on the bog were now forgotten.
The Show was more than just a one day event, it was as much about the anticipation, the preparations, the memory of the previous year perhaps, the preceding weeks leading cattle around the back roads, turning mad beasts fit for a rodeo into docile stars of the Show Ring. I can remember one occasion when aged not more than ten or eleven. I was leading a feisty heifer in our front field. As she took flight I stumbled, I held on to the rope as long as I could but she had me beaten all ends. As I let go I noticed I was minus one half of my footwear. Try as we might we could not locate the missing shoe. Ten months later the fate of the lost shoe was known. A trailer load of grass was tipped on to the silage slab, and there it was, my old shoe, tattered torn and ragged from its exposure.
The evening before the Big Day the cattle for showing were brought in from the fields. We haltered, washed, scrubbed and combed them. Plastic buckets overflowing with fairy liquid and warm water. There were several different types of combs for the different animals. The Herefords with their wiry hair, the big Shorthorn cow, her gleaming red hide and friendly polled head. Extra bedding was placed in the byres and with it the hope that the next morning the main actors would still be spic and span. When all was done some one might call into McGowan’s house to get a preview of the show book, hot off the press, from Aideen or Lourda, the overworked Secretaries. The Show Book listed all the classes and prizes and also the entrants, the friendly opposition.
An early breakfast was essential on Show morning as there was a busy few hours ahead. When finally ready we walked the cattle to the show. It was only a mile but what an adventure. Some passing motorists would always stop to say hello and drive alongside, windows down, half tanned arms lazily hanging out the side, commenting on how well our cattle looked and wishing us luck.
Crossing the town was always a bit nerve wracking, hoping the cattle wouldn’t stampede or damage a car, nearing the park, finding a good spot along the wall which would become HQ for the day. When we got into position there began another intense session of grooming and combing. A quick gander around the field to size up the opposition and see what our chances of success were.
The PA would then crack into life and get the show on the road. The classes were called. “When are we on?” “We’re next after that class in Ring two” “Who is judging?” “Get ready”. If not leading then a good ringside seat to watch proceedings. “How is she walking, how does she look, is the judge looking at her, is he calling her in, No?” “He’s calling her in now, where will he place her?” anxious moments, he is talking to my father for the longest time, then the rosettes in his hand, “what colour is it? Its red, yes we’ve won!”
And so the drama went on in pursuit of the Red rosette. The morning would simply fly by. There might get a short break and a chance to visit the horses and ponies. These were always over at the Boeshil end of the Park. Sometimes there was Showjumping and we watched the McGuinnesses with awe clearing the jumps effortlessly. The driving cars were always a highlight with Joe Beirne and family driving in fine style. Then was the Donkey Derby and great excitement and it always seemed to be won by the one of the Mees
Then back for the young stockman class. Some young naturals, unfortunately I wasn’t one of them, others under a little bit of parental pressure, some really looking the part with white coats. The standing of the animals feet was most important and animals were constantly been wheeled around again and their feet poked with sticks to get them standing perfectly, like a bovine Miss World pageant. Some poor devil would be struggling with a little heifer that was prancing around like a ballerina that morning, yet has somehow being transformed into a stubborn mule. A younger sibling is quickly press ganged in to walk behind and “push her on”.
My favourite event was the dog show. I entered a few times but the pedigree of our dogs was, well, questionable. It was still a great day out for the dog and what would he be at home anyway when we were all here. You could tell he wasn’t used to these big days unlike the professional poser dogs, posing nonchalantly, barely casting a sideward glance at our collie cross pulling hard against this strange leash. Don’t worry about it Sammy, we still think you’re the greatest and tomorrow I’ll get a big bag of bones from Paddy Kilrane or Logans to make up for the disappointment of coming last in your class.
The Shows in the 1980’s always seemed to be cursed with wet weather and I can remember people scrambling for shelter in trailers. If it was a long shower it wasn’t long before the air was sweet with the pungent scent of Woodbines or Sweet Aftons.
The buzz around the field was magical. There were Chip Vans manned by the late Aubrey and Barney, Mr Whippy ice cream, the Photograph Section, the sheep and goats, the prize vegetables. My brother Enda entered three beets one show, which he had tended to all spring under the watchful eye of my granny. “And what would you know about Beets” as we taunted him. But he had the last laugh when he picked up his two pounds first prize. In the sheds the eagle eyed stewards had their hands full trying to keep quick handed urchins from running off with prized buns and mouth-watering cakes.
A quick trip over the town with my grandfather to Sheila McGarry’s Public House was obligatory. The little pub which was usually very quiet the rest of the year was packed on Show Day. Men with sticks and caps greeted each other enthusiastically. Their nicotine stained fingers clutching a half one and a glass of Guinness on the Counter as well.
The day gradually drew to a close and we gathered up our gear and headed across the town with our cattle. This was a trickier proposition; the traffic would be a lot heavier than this morning. As we neared home the cattle started getting excited as they sensed familiar pastures, a few quick lows from the lead cow and then the lows from away off from our other cattle, the ordinary cattle, those not deemed to have royal enough blood to go the Show. The Show cattle now quickened their pace, and when we got to the bottom of our lane we usually took the halters off and let them run up the rest of the way to the farm yard themselves. They knew where to go. They say a good huntsman would not let a morsel pass his lips until his animal was fed, watered and comfortable. We were no different.
A quick cup of tea and then into John James McKeon’s or Caseys where every animal on display at the Show that day was examined, discussed and judged anew. Commiserations for some who didn’t win, but felt should have, while those who did win tried hard to be humble about their success. The Show Dance brought matters to an end but the planning for the next one had already begun.