Charlene MAgee with her flock at Cornamuckla, beside her Drumcrow homeplace.

“I love being different”

PLOUGHING Cornafean farmer set to represent Cavan at Nationals

“It's something different, and I love being different,” says ploughing hopeful Charlene Magee emphasising the last word.

“I hate being the same as everybody else.”

The Cornafean farmer certainly is doing something different, as Charlene will next week represent her county at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska. She is the only female in the 10-strong team, and is the first to compete for Cavan in years – not since the three times national champion Kathleen O’Reilly hung up her loy.

In 2019 Charlene was a drover in a number of local marts, and it was while working in Ballyjamesduff that she was approached to join the Cavan Ploughing Association by stalwart ploughman Jim Vogan.

“I says, Look it, I’ll join for the craic – that was literally it,” recalls Charlene, who is now employed by the Department of Agriculture as a technical agricultural officer (TAO) based in Liffey Meats. How she has time for more craic in her life is a mystery as she and her partner Kevin Quinn have a young son, Mark, to rear, and she also runs a fine sheep enterprise beside her parents’ Drumcrow home.

Charlene’s first association meeting confirmed her fellow ploughmen were just that - men. Appreciative of new members, the members gave the warmest of welcomes and were hugely encouraging.

“I went to the first meeting and the lads were like, ‘Would you plough?’ ‘Would you not plough?’” she recalls affecting their non-pushy tone.

“I was like, ‘I’ll plough it doesn’t bother me. I love getting hands on, and doing stuff where you can achieve things.”

Quite exciting

With the 2019 competition already past, the following year she ploughed novice at the County Ploughing Championships.

“I liked it, got on fierce well, the lads were so helpful,” she said of the county ploughing.

“This is my first year now going through to the nationals as a Farmerette for Cavan - it’s quite exciting,” she says with a good natured laugh that’s never too far from the conversation. “Don’t know what to expect!”

Charlene will face off against nine other Farmerettes on the three furrow plough.

“Perfectly straight,” she says with precision, as if a judge was measuring her words. “That’s the whole aim of the game. The first open split lines you up for the rest of the game - so that opening split has to be dead straight or else you are knocked off.”

Charlene and her fellow ‘Farmerettes’ will commence ploughing at 10.30am on Wednesday and must be finished by 2.30pm. The duration of the intense competition is indicative of the exacting standards demanded by judges, who assess each split.

“It’s all about getting your plough level on the back of your tractor. Once you have the plough level and you have the scores as straight as you can get them – and hopefully you don’t meet a stone.”

And if you do meet a stone?

“You have to go back, lift the stone out of the way, go and reset the plough if the stone has knocked it off. There’s a lot of setting to it. It’s a lot of patience moreso than anything else.”

Fellow Cavan clubmember Andrew Tully has coached Charlene on his tractor and plough at his Kingscourt farm, and most recently during the Girley Harvest Festival in Kells. She welcomed that chance to plough in front of a crowd.

“It’s great to have people there because if you had nobody watching you and then you head to Laois and you’ve thousands,” she said, leaving the potential for stage fright unsaid. “I’d far rather have people there, it gives you the adrenalin, so you have a sense of what the day is going to be like.”

Having said that, Charlene insists she’s not competitive. You sense she will have won whether she comes first or last.

“If I get anything I get it and if I don’t I don’t. I’ll be quite happy. All I want to do is represent Cavan and put them on the map. Literally fly the flag high and represent all the women and hopefully get more on board.”