A family rooted in decades of Virginia Show tradition

Robbie, Rachel and Albert Walker on their farm in Munterconnaught.

Even in the dusty middle of their second cut of silage, the Walker family was willing to drop everything to discuss the Virginia Show.

Sitting in the living room of their homely farmhouse, it’s a measure of both their complacency and love for the show that has characterized family life for many years. The fact that the heatwave showed no signs of abating may also have been a factor.

En route to Knocknaveagh the characteristic rolling drumlins of Cavan loosen up a bit, the hills begin to flatten out with the accents. It really is the Midlands here. A river bordering Walker Farm at one time has a wet shoulder in Leinster.

The family’s connection to the Virginia Show has its roots on Rachel’s side. His father, Robert Henry, was from Dunancory, suburban Virginia, and bought the Knocknaveagh farm in 1938. Two years later, he and his brother Joe were among about a dozen volunteers to found the Virginia Show.

It’s no surprise that Rachel has been on the show for so long that she doesn’t remember her first. She was Albert’s introduction to Show Day.

“I guess in 1974, 1975, I was brought to the salon,” Albert recalls, “and worked my way up from there – first a man of odd jobs and I did some stewardship in different sections of the living room – parking lot, and I ended up on the gate.

“I was put in charge of organizing the trade stands then,” he recalls from the early 1980s, “and that’s the line I’ve been in ever since. It was a challenge, but we did it.

He remembers that Patsy Denning had accomplished a lot before him with the trade booth section, but there was still a long way to go to bring it to where it is today. Along with admission revenue and sponsorship, it supplements the show’s three main revenue streams.

Virginia Show’s “good reputation” ensured exhibitors’ interest in renting space.

“So it was just a matter of organizing it and fitting them into the space – we ended up with 200 trade stands in a short enough period of time.”

The Celt wonders if there is a bad stewardship that no volunteer wants?

“Trading is important,” Robbie jokes under his breath to his father’s amusement.

Robbie loves the show and his family’s long involvement with it. His sister Gillian Kellett is the head steward of the growing dog show, and she has enlisted her two sons to help her. Likewise, Robbie intends to bring his three sons into Show-life when they’re a bit older – for now, their interest lies in competing in the Lego building class.

“I was just dragged. I’ve probably been there from the very beginning,” Robbie says of his own introduction to Show Day.

He admits to getting great satisfaction from seeing things run smoothly on the day of the show and even getting to enjoy some rides with his wife Michelle and their guys.

“It’s more possible now than before.

“There was a time when you had to fetch cash from trade stalls that hadn’t paid off at the time, but that’s kind of a thing of the past. Everything is now done online. »

Getting money from the occasional awkward customer was stressful at times.

“Yeah,” Robbie said with a grateful laugh. “And you knew the guys would be inconvenient, especially if it was raining or that – it’s understandable if people weren’t having the best days. But that didn’t happen too often. Most of the time people are very happy with it, very few people could upset anyone.

When his trade booth engagements are over, Robbie likes to pop into the machinery section to see “what’s newest.” Also, as a dairy farmer, he is interested in the champion cow Diageo Baileys, especially since he will have seen the farmers around the Showgrounds in the days leading up to the show.

“The cows are now housed in a new barn at the Exhibition Centre,” explains Albert. “Before that, they were entrusted to farmers from all over the country. We kept cows here for example and they arrived a few days before.

Would the farmers stay with you?

“In fact, they would stay with the cow,” Albert retorts.

The Celt laughs.

“They would stay physically with the cow,” he repeats. He really isn’t kidding.

Robbie adds: “They normally have guest rooms, but they always have someone who stays with the cow all night, and they take turns.”

“Even now in Virginia, they used to spend a few days living in the shed,” Albert continues. “Just to get the cows used to the environment. We take good care of these cows.

Illustrating how well looked after, Albert recalls taking in a farmer from Cork with a cow imported from Canada which had a price tag of 25,000 – “and that was pounds at the time, it was a long time ago”.

“The man stayed with her the whole time. He would have gone out for a walk,” Albert continues, looking out to the yard as if the man could still meander out of the barn.

“They have to put the cows on a milking pace so they’re full of milk when it comes to judging, and that’s around three or four in the afternoon – so they could milk them at two a.m. the night before.

“It’s not just about throwing a halter on them and taking them out,” he stresses.

The Celt wonders how far some will go.

“He won the Baileys that year,” Arnold happily reports.

Albert had kept a pedigree herd, but Robbie laughs at the suggestion that they could ever enter the Baileys cow saying “they are more for the production than the show”.

Albert notes the difficult criteria in terms of quantity and quality to even qualify for entry into the Baileys.

“It’s just not your ordinary molly cow that can fit in – she might be a pretty cow, but if she didn’t produce the goods…”

“It’s one of the biggest changes that’s happened over the years,” says Albert, “it’s become more professional now. Previously, anyone could enter and anyone could enter.

“If you had a good cow, you could get her out,” confirms Robbie.

“That day is over now, it’s very specialized and it’s quite expensive,” Albert continues in a conversation that could be transposed to GAA, football or almost any competitive hobby.

Robbie notes that the pursuit of dairy perfection has necessarily resulted in “far fewer people” competing now.

Albert takes over: “For example, Rachel’s father could bring his ordinary draft horse and cart. And he got prizes for his horse and cart. If you had an animal that you thought was reasonably good for the job, you would bring it in and you had a good chance, but that day is over.

Rachel watched the proceedings in silence. La Celte wonders about her involvement in the Salon.

“I’ve had enough of the home industries section,” she said.

Regardless of her Virginia Show royal lineage, Rachel wasn’t always welcome to don a white steward’s coat.

“Before, they didn’t have female stewards, or secretaries, or anything,” she recalls in fact.

Thankfully, as Albert might say, that day is over now.

“I was the first to involve women in this project,” says Albert who, after managing the trade stands, progressed to hold the positions of vice president and president at different times.

Of course, Virginia Show 2022 will be the first showday since August 2019. Robbie admits he missed it in 2020.

“Before, it was late summer – the show was over, the kids went back to school, fall set in, it was kind of a marker in some ways. You found that something was missing – summer had just ended and there was nothing there.

Since the full shutdown of 2020, last year presented a different problem.

“2021, we didn’t know what was going on, we were kinda wondering, was this going to happen?”

Robbie hopes the break has whetted the appetite for a recharged Virginia Show.

“The shows in general seem to be going pretty well, so hopefully now we get them out in Virginia. Either way, we always get a good turnout,” says Robbie.

“Even in the rain,” adds Rachel.

When asked if he’s confident in the show, Robbie reflects on the many changes over the past few years, then says, “It’s been 79 years, we’ll have to get to 80 anyway!”

About Paul Cox

Check Also

Queen Elizabeth’s death felt among British expats in Tampa Bay

TAMPA — Keith “Dougie” Douglas watched the news from his home country for a while …