The Northern Ireland International Ploughing Championships in 2013 celebrated its 70th anniversary. There have been many famous names from across the province who have been successful in ploughing, the Barr’s, Wright’s and Gill’s to name a few. In fact, Northern Ireland is recognised across the world for producing 7 World Champions who won the Golden Plough (World Title) on 10 occasions which is second only to Austria in the all-time list.
For any event to celebrate its 70th birthday, there are not many people who could say they have attended every year, but Lawrence McMillan MBE, a retired farmer from Dundonald, aged 85 is as passionate about ploughing now, as he was when he attended the first International Ploughing match in 1938, and has never been an absentee from the event, either competing, judging or as an official.
A farmer’s son, Lawrence took part in his first ploughing match in 1942 in Newtownards. He recalls “The International Ploughing match was cancelled during World War II but local ploughing matches still went ahead. I started ploughing with a Ferguson tractor and plough. There were hydraulic ploughs, trail ploughs ploughing in open classes, high cut classes, wholework classes and Young Farmers classes.”
Lawrence tasted this first success in 1956 when he won the International ploughing match for the first time and was a team mate of Hugh Barr in England at the World Contest when Hugh Barr won the world title for the 3rd time. Lawrence would go on to win the International match five times but in 1959, when Northern Ireland hosted the World Contest for the first time in Armoy, Lawrence would have his crowning moment when he got his hands on the Golden Plough ploughing with a ransome trail plough. Like Hugh Barr, Lawrence was restricted to competing at the World Contest to only 3 times.
Laurence took up the role as NIPA Vice-Chairman in 1965 and has remained an office bearer ever since, becoming Chairman in 1970, President in 1984 and NIPA Patron since 2004. He remains active in the NIPA Central Committee and still travels the country at weekends to go to ploughing matches.
Another famous name in local ploughing is Wright. Five members have won the Northern Ireland Ploughing title on several occasions – W G Wright, Des Wright, Norman Wright, Don Wright and David Wright.
Des, a ex-potato inspector from Coleraine, won the Northern Ireland finals on 8 occasions between 1979 (when he tied for first place with his brother Don) and 2001. He went on to win the World title in England in 1984. However, it was when he was runner-up in 1985 that he recalls “I got off to an excellent start with my first run, but coming back down the field, the plough didn’t run right at all. It was only then I discovered a cattle ring had got caught in the back share. I only got 5 points for my split that day. The next day went well for me and I got 9 points out of 10 for my split, but lost the world title by less than 2 points. So the cattle ring that cost me the world title that year is still in my toolbox.” Des regained the World title in 1986 when Canada hosted the World Contest.
After being NIPA Chairman from 2005-2009, Des now spends many weekends throughout the year judging at local ploughing matches, and will judge for the national finals next weekend.
Visitors to the ploughing will be able to enjoy the different styles of ploughing seen through many generations; from horse classes, vintage classes with fordsons & fergies competing with fergie & ransomes ploughs, along with the usual modern world style conventional and reversible classes.
Northern Ireland’s Magnificent Seven hope to be at the championships this year again – the 7 World Champions – Hugh Barr, Lawrence McMillan, Des Wright, Tom Cochrane, David Wright, David Gill & Samuel Gill. Some of them will be ploughing and some officiating – but all casting a keen eye across the ploughing looking to turn the perfect furrow.
The Passing of a Champion
Northern Ireland lost one of its longest serving ploughmen iin 2013. Langford Gilliland, affectionately known as Fordie, passed away in April aged 98.
An agricultural contractor from Sevenmile Straight, and a life-long member of Killead Ploughing Society, Fordie began ploughing with horses in the 1934. He then took up tractor ploughing and was crowned Northern Ireland Ploughing Champion in 1954. He represented Northern Ireland at the World Ploughing Contest in 1955 in Sweden where he finished in 3rd place, behind his countryman Hugh Barr who won the Golden Plough.
An honorary member of Ballyeaston Vintage Tractor Club and Northern Ireland Ploughing Association, his love for ploughing took him all over Ireland, England and to the Isle of Man. In 1993, the NIPA presented Fordie with an award in recognition of 50 years services to ploughing. He ploughed at the first ever Northern Ireland International Ploughing match and spent over 70 years of his life competing at ploughing matches, ploughing into his nineties. Even into his 80’s he travelled to the Isle of Man and can be remembered for borrowing a set of horses from the Manx trams to use at a ploughing match. His daughter, Norma says “Ploughing was my dad’s first love. In his later years I remember when he was released after spending six months in hospital. The first thing he asked me if I was doing anything the following Saturday as he needed someone to take him to Listooder Ploughing Match.”
He will be remembered by many who watched him plough for his David Brown 850, which he owned most of his life. He was famously quoted “For someone in their nineties to go ploughing for pleasure in all kinds of weathers on an open tractor may seem a little odd, but I reckon keeping active is the secret of an old age with fun.”
Fordie will fondly be remembered by anyone who had the privilege of meeting him. He was always respected by his fellow ploughmen and was always ready to help anyone.