Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Features

Meet the Fermanagh couple who travelled on tractors to their wedding, and the farmers who love nothing more than a day in the cab

Ivan Little meets the unlikely stars of a new BBC NI True North documentary to be shown this Monday

They're the Marmite of the motoring masses. For people either love tractors or they don't. Few are in the middle of the road. The main tractor detractors are primarily impatient car drivers whose brows furrow when they can't overtake the hulking heavyweights on narrow country byways.

But now BBC Northern Ireland has ploughed its resources into a new TV documentary which is a heartfelt homage to the attractions of tractors, showing the beauty of the beasts to a wider audience.

Tractor Mad, which is part of the True North series, features some of the most fanatical lovers of the agrarian giants.

They include a perfectly matched Fermanagh couple who drove themselves to their church wedding last April in separate ribbon-festooned tractors.

Shauna Monaghan, from Macken, searched high and low to find a heavy duty English-made Muir Hill tractor that fiance Martin McCauley, from Monea, had long coveted.

Shauna eventually tracked down a tractor to hire for their big day in Newtownards, 100 miles from home.

She was so overjoyed that she burst into tears on getting the phone call to tell her that she had found the elusive Muir Hill.

"He's obsessed with them," said Shauna. "I personally don't like them. I think they are a monstrosity of a thing. But each to their own."

Shauna told the documentary makers that she would never let Martin buy a Muir Hill. But on the day of their nuptials as the tractor arrived on a low loader Martin's face lit up and his first wedding vow was that he wanted a Muir Hill of his own.

Shauna's bridal car was a Holland TM 130 tractor that she steered to the church in a flowing wedding dress and obligatory welly boots.

The specially valeted Holland got her to the Immaculate Conception church in Monea on time and even the priest, Father Jimmy McPhillips, said he'd never seen a wedding convoy like it.

The documentary commentary, which is narrated by Enniskillen actor Ciaran McMenamin, noted that for Shauna and Martin, who have two children, their ideal evening out was invariably spent in the fields of their farm on their cherished tractors.

Shauna was filmed drawing the silage and Martin was cutting - the perfect combined harvesters, so to speak.

Martin said their date nights were their quality time together and added: "We mightn't be talking to each other but at least both of us is there. It's our kind of cinema night out or our meal out or whatever."

The programme also focused on Jimmy Doherty, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, who's something of a superstar of the farming world.

He presents shows on tractors and farming on two online subscription-based channels and some of his videos get up to a million hits.

Also known as 'Jimmy the Legend' his sayings are regularly printed on T-shirts. And such is the popularity of the self-confessed tractor-addict that his wife Jacqui revealed that he is regularly approached for photographs, autographs and even for kisses from adoring female fans.

Jimmy's friend and fellow presenter, Ciaran O'Rourke, from Lisnaskea, talked passionately to the documentary makers about his love affair with the farm machinery which, like so many of his like-minded tractorites, started when he was knee high to a Massey Ferguson.

Perhaps oblivious to the sometimes controversial standing of the tractor among some sections of the non-farming community Ciaran said: "There are two types of people in this country - those who drive tractors and those who want to drive tractors."

There was no mention of anyone of a city bent who might want to drive tractors off the roads at peak traffic times ...

Ciaran's full-time job is as a forklift driver in a glass factory in Derrylin. But he's not an indoors man and is clearly in his element when he is "enjoying the freedom and the craic" on his tractor.

"There's no better job for meeting people,"he insisted. "There's nobody giving you any hassle. It's just you and the ground."

Ciaran's idea of a holiday isn't sitting on a beach but rather in his tractor cab cutting hedges.

But Ciaran and Jimmy were filmed on a day out to Co Meath where the buzz was all about tractors. Of course. The two men were among hundreds of people attending a world record attempt in May at what was known as the Great Grass Eve near Trim.

The crowd watched in awe as a remarkable 104 foragers and 113 tractors tried to smash the record for picking up 100 acres of grass in ten minutes.

The cameras were also running as massive numbers of enthusiasts descended on Mullahead near Portadown for another major event of the year - the annual tractor pulling competition which always sorts out the men from the boys in the tractor world.

The rivalry was, as ever, intense as owners battled it out in a power struggle for the tractor bragging rights, speaking a language that most city folk just don't know.

Another draw for tractor types last year was the open day held by well-known Banbridge agricultural contractor John Dan O'Hare, who has hundreds of high-end machines to his name.

Thousands of people turned up to gaze longingly at his tractors and other farm machinery.

Shauna McCauley said she'd had the tractor bug for as long as she could remember on her family farm. She told the Belfast Telegraph that she and her five sisters had always been more interested in tractors than dolls.

She also said her marriage to Martin was a match made in farming heaven. "We met about nine years ago at a disco in the Fort Lodge hotel in Enniskillen, or the 'lodge of love', as it was known. We just clicked straight away."

They didn't know each other but it quickly transpired that Shauna and Martin were both from farming stock and both of them were crazy about tractors.

Shauna said: "It was lucky. I could have met a townie but we were both from the country and tractors were a passion for both of us."

Other couples went for romantic walks. Shauna and Martin spent their free time on the farm "on quad bikes going to look at cows".

Shauna said tractors were in their blood, adding:"You're brought up with them and the love is handed down from generation to generation. It's drummed into you."

The McCauleys' sons, Tiernan (7) and Daithi (3), have both inherited their parents' affections for tractors and farming.

Shauna said: "The boys know that Saturday is the main farming day around our place and they have themselves up fully dressed waiting for their daddy to go out, and this could be at half six or seven in the morning.

"Their toys are all tractors, harvesters and silage trailers. They're obsessed. They wouldn't thank you for any cars."

Shauna and Martin still prefer the farming life to the high life. "On Mother's Day I was content to put on my farming clothes and check on the animals. I'm not one of the these people who need to be brought places, "she said.

Shauna said tractors weren't just work horses for farmers any more. "Some of them are blinged nowadays. They're the Lamborghinis and Porsches of tractors. You can get all sorts of extras and it's no wonder that people turn their heads to look at them."

In several towns in Northern Ireland the mania for tractors has gone into overdrive. Police have had to warn young dri vers who gather in town centres at night that they shouldn't be using their tractors on roads for non-agricultural reasons.

And, on one famous occasion, young farmers from Ballymoney drove their tractors in convoy to stage a protest over claims that police were harassing them when they took their vehicles into the town in the evenings. A police inspector told a meeting how he'd seen couples courting in tractor cabs.

But Tractor Mad accentuates how the mighty machines are useful for more than just farming. Or courting.

One contributor to the documentary said: "A tractor is more important than a car. When they need something pulled out they need a tractor; when they need something moved they're looking for a tractor; when they go to build a house they need a tractor; a tractor makes the food.

"Tractors are very underrated."

True North: Tractor Mad, Monday, BBC1 NI, at 10.40pm

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