When the prizewinners were paraded at the end of last week"s National Ploughing Championships at Cuffesgrange, Co. Kilkenny, Westmeath man Paddy Boyhan was among the big winners.
A Collinstown-based organic and suckler cow farmer, Paddy is also one of Westmeath"s best known practitioners of loy digging - a highly skillful method of manual ploughing which was popular among Irish farmers nearly two centuries ago.
As he is only involved with loy digging for the past two years, Paddy successfully competed against a handful of diggers in the Junior category at the Ploughing Championships on Thursday last.
'Basically, you have to dig four sods, thirty foot long, and you"re judged on how they"re put together,' Paddy explained to the Westmeath Examiner this week. 'We use a loy spade - one of the early kind of spades - with a heavy handle made of ash, and a steel plate on the face of it, and as a tool its practically unbreakable.'
Paddy - a local United Farmers Association member and a lobbyist on behalf of low-income farmers - said that the ground at the Kilkenny venue was 'set like cement', and although conditions were bad for loy digging, nobody managed to break their spade. 'The ground might break the man, but it won"t break the tool,' he explained.
For his efforts in the Loy Class Final at the Ploughing Championships, Paddy won the contest"s cup, and shield which was sponsored by well known Irish country music singer Declan Nerney. 'Declan is from Drumlish, and that"s an area where the loy would have been used a lot during his youth,' Paddy said.
'I use the loy in my garden at home, but I should do a lot more of it. It"s something I really enjoy, and I love taking part in loy events around the country and in Westmeath.'
Castlepollard man Tom Egan is chairman of the Loy Association of Ireland, and both men hope that Paddy"s success in Kilkenny will encourage more people to take up loy digging.
'He"s a cross-country runner, big into sport, and the winner of hundreds of agricultural show prizes, so this is another feather in his cap,' Tom said. 'There"s also a very strong tradition of greyhound racing in his family.
'Paddy is the first person ever to win the loy at over 60 years of age, and this is great because he"s only taken it up two years ago.'
Tom, who has been a loy digger since the national organisation was set up 20 years ago, said that competition in Ireland initially involved three contestants. But the Loy Association has since grown to cover fourteen counties, running competitions in four classes - Senior, Junior, Under 21 and Ladies - and organising contests for Under 16 boys and girls at Tullamore Show each year.
'We have young recruits coming on stream evey year, but to keep up the good work that"s been done, the older generation have to keep at it,' Tom said.
The word 'loy' comes from the Gaelic word 'lai', which means spade.
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