Presbyterians at the Ploughing Championships

20.9.2023 | Mission News, Moderator, Church in Society, Farming and Rural Life, Presbytery News

Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr Sam Mawhinney was in Ratheniska, County Laois today, supporting the work of the Church at the National Ploughing Championships. One of Europe’s biggest outdoor events, the three-day event closes tomorrow, but each day PCI has been welcoming people to the Presbyterian stand. For the Moderator, it has brought back some happy memories.

Organised by the all-Ireland denomination’s three regional presbyteries, which are located in the Republic of Ireland – the Presbytery of Dublin and Munster, along with the Presbytery of Monaghan and the Donegal part of the of Derry and Donegal Presbytery – the Church has had a presence at the event since 2016, when the Championships came to Tullamore in County Offaly. 

Speaking about his visit, Dr Mawhinney said, “Growing up in Ballycastle on the north coast, my father had a small holding of about 27 acres, which he farmed part-time. He loved to plough with horses and tractors and took part in competitions. While he didn’t reach the Nationals, I have fond memories of watching him working the land we had, and going to the competitions.” 

The minister of Adelaide Road Presbyterian in Dublin continued, “When I was minister in Fermoy and Cahir, the first congregations I was called to in Cork and Tipperary, Karen and I would often have taken our boys to the National Ploughing Championships. I have really enjoyed spending time at them again, seeing my colleagues on the Presbyterian Strand as they witness for Jesus, watching some of the competition, and visiting the other stands as well.” 

Last year, according to the Championship organisers, the three-day event attracted 277,000 people. The Minister of Tullamore Presbyterian Church, Rev William Hayes, has been involved in the team organising the stand ever since the Nationals came to County Offaly. One of the largest outdoor events in Europe, it takes place across 900 acres, with 25 miles of walkways, and 1700 trade stalls. “It has gone really well, with lots of good conversations in the tent, which has been pretty solidly filled. We are delighted that Dr Mawhinney could join us,” Mr Hayes said. 

“The thinking behind the stand is very simple. We offer a place to rest weary legs on a chair, or comfy sofa, a free cup of tea or coffee, a biscuit or two, and a listening ear. The formula certainly seems to work if the hundreds of tea bags that we get through each year is anything to go by! Conversations range from the friendly and superficial, “How far have you come today?” through to, “What type of church is a Presbyterian Church?” and on into the profound, “What do I need to do to be right with God? If desired, it is always a privilege to pray with people.” 

Mr Hayes continued, “In previous years we have had a number of lulls in the day, this year, however, it has been almost constant. I am never surprised at the genuine spiritual hunger people have, especially among young people. Ireland may be becoming a secular nation, but that hunger, that thirst is out there.” 

“It is an exhausting time of evangelism and outreach for everyone on the stand, but we hope and pray that every conversation, every act of hospitality and every New Testament, or piece of gospel literature taken away would, through God’s Sovereign Grace, “fall on good soil and produce a crop a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown,” as Matthew’s gospel tells us,” Mr Hayes said. 

Photos (1) Dr Mawhinney is pictured with Rev William Hayes, minister of Tullamore Presbyterian Church in County Offaly and one of the main organisers of the all-Ireland denomination’s presence at the Championships outside the stand (2) serving tea and coffee in the tent with fellow Dublin minister, Rev Lorraine Kennedy-Ritchie, minister of Clontarf & Scots Presbyterian Church (3) the Moderator with Irish Farmers' Association presidential nominee, Francie Gorman and An Garda Síochána Commissioner, Drew Harris who were also at Plough 2023.

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