The biggest farming event of the year, the National Ploughing Championships, got under way at Mogeely near Midleton in Co Cork this morning.

The President, Mary McAleese, officially opened the festival.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Agriculture, Mary Coughlan, and other political leaders were also expected to be among those attending today.

About 50,000 spectators were expected to attend the championships today, with a total attendance of over 150,000 forecast for the three-day event at the 400-acre site at Mogeely.

For the past few decades, the festival has been the highlight of the agricultural calendar but it also gets huge support outside the farming community.

As well as the ploughing events, 700 exhibition stands have been erected, and there is a huge display of farm machinery as well as a large livestock show.