The Ploughing Match at Ballymena

During the second half of the 1800s, ploughing matches became a common event in the North of Ireland.  In a search of old newspapers, reports of annual ploughing matches appear frequently across the 1860s, 70s and 80s. 

I’m starting to conduct some research into local farming societies, from the second half of the 1800s, and their annual ploughing matches. Local names of the time, crop up in the media coverage of those who won awards at these events. These names may be of some interest. A work-in-progress.

The Portglenone Farming Society held it’s second annual ploughing event on the 7th February 1867, over at the Island. The names of those local farmers who took part, and won prizes, may be of interest.

The Belfast Morning News reported it at the time, as follows.

Portglenone Farming Society

The second annual ploughing-match of this flourishing society was held on Thursday, the 7th instant, in a field belonging Mr. William Wallace, The Island, Portglenone.

Ballymena Ploughing Match
Annual Ploughing Match

“At eleven o’clock thirteen well-appointed ploughs entered upon the ground; and for several hours, amid the best arrangements and the hearty plaudits of a numerous and orderly assemblage, carried on the work honourable competition.

At six o’clock, the members and friends of the society met in the Victoria Hotel – Dr. Dysart in the chair; and, after a most substantial and excellent dinner prepared in Mr. Black’s usual style — the award of the judges (Messrs. Clawson, Newtownbreda and McBurnie, Templepatrick) was read by the secretary, Mr. Wm. Adams, junior.”

The prizes awarded were as follows:

1st – A Plough — William McCaw (plough held by his son William)
2nd – Turnip Sower – John Hilton (himself)
3rd – Drill Harrow — William Wallace (William John Lynn).
4th – Turnip Cutter — Henry McCaw (himself).
5th – Saddle Harrow John Adams (his son William).
6th – Angle Harrow — Mr. Close (Robert Herbison).
7th – Cart Saddle and Breeching — Edward Kelly (himself).
8th – Back-ropes and Chains — James B. Elliott (himself).
9th – Collar — William Wallace (Robert Andrew).
10th – Two-horse Swing Bars – Robert Hilton (Robert Telford)
11th – One Pair Winkers — William Hilton (his son Thomas).
12th – Steel Grape — Hugh McFadden (John Mechan).
13th – Steel Fork — Laughlin Woodrow (his son Robert).

The winning plough, and also the other prizes, which it must be added were of the best quality, were manufactured at the establishment of Messrs. Gray & Son, Belfast.

After the usual loyal toasts were given and duly honoured, and the health of the successful competitors responded to in a flowing bumper, the meeting broke up, having spent a very agreeable evening.

The winning plough, and also the prizes, which were of the best quality, were manufactured at the establishment of Messrs. Gray & Son, Belfast.

After the usual loyal toasts were given and duly honoured, and the health of the successful competitors responded to in a flowing bumper, the meeting broke up, having spent a very agreeable evening.

Source: Belfast Morning News, 13th February 1867

The Man of the Woods and Other Poems

A fascinating section in one of the local newspapers (I have misplaced the newspaper source), from a few years later, in 1882, had a lovely poem about a ploughing match in the nearby regional town of Ballymena.  It prefaced the poem with references to the strife across Ireland of earlier years – and the contrast to be found at the peaceful ploughing taking place in a field just outside Ballymena. 

Reminiscences of a long and pleasant sojourn in Ireland crowd upon me as I turn to verses that celebrate the occurrence of a peaceful conflict, the scene of which was a field on the farm of Lower Broughshane, near the pretty town of Ballymena, County Antrim, Province of Ulster. We must all regret that so many scenes and contests of a totally opposite character disturb the serenity of the other provinces of unhappy Ireland, and wish that the time may soon come when “the rainbow of hope” shall rise “bright o’er the flood of her tears and her blood;” and never deadlier strife than a ploughing competition shall be waged in any portion of the Emerald Isle.


Let others sing the songs of war,
Or wildly wake the martial lyre,
To tell how rose the battle star,
And shed around its wasting fire—
The withering beams which blight diffuse,
And bring despair and death to many—
A nobler theme inspires my muse,
The peaceful strife at Ballymena.

Our fathers on the fields around,
Were wont to meet in deadly fray;
Then steel on steel gave clanging sound,
Dread music for the ear of day;
Then Mercy’s voice arose in vain,
The claim of grace not urged by any,
While Havoc held his ruthless reign
Upon the fields of Ballymena.

But now the steel so foully stained
Is far away in horror thrown;
The baleful battle star has waned,
And Peace proclaims this soil her own:
She sweetly smiles to mark the sod,
Once crimsoned o’er with blood of many,
Now by a peaceful army trod—
The peasant sons of Ballymena.

A furrow-forming blade they wield—
No other instrument they claim—
To pierce the uncomplaining field,
Instead of throbbing hearts, their aim:
An honest rivalry they feel—
Their object high enough for any—
Worthy of all the care and zeal
Which guide the ploughs at Ballymena.

May never deadlier strife than this
“The finest peasantry” engage,
To mar again their social bliss,
And blot anew our history’s page:
And may our patriots proudly watch,
And speed the plough with efforts many,
Till all the island strive to match
The ploughing match at Ballymena.

The man of the woods and other poems
by William M’Dowall
Publication date 1882


"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

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