The revolution of tractors and their significance in the Parade

 The best friends responsible for introducing tractors to the St.Patrick’s Day  Parade, Birmingham, Willie Finnegan and Jim Mohan (R.I.P)

The best friends responsible for introducing tractors to the St.Patrick’s Day
Parade, Birmingham, Willie Finnegan and Jim Mohan (R.I.P)

By Siobhán Mohan

The sights, sounds and engine smells of vintage tractors at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Birmingham is one to behold, and the mere presence of the tractor in such a setting harks back to how much they were relied upon for basic agriculture and transport in yesteryear.

The humble tractor was aptly referred to as the new work horse in the 50s as it slowly but surely replaced horsepower, thus changing the face of farming and country living forever.

This powerful machine didn’t need shoeing, a stable, grazing, and veterinary attention; it only required fuel, regular maintenance and a driver. Unlike the horse, the tractor didn’t need to be ‘broken in’ and taught it’s job either; this great machine was brought to life with a the turn of a key and it would do as it was told all day long!

Tractor technology had surely advanced since the primitive forms in the early 1900s and indeed became a familiar sight in rural Ireland from the 50s onwards.

Peter Mohan, a former mechanic said, “The first tractor I ever saw at home in Monaghan was the Ferguson Brown (petrol), which was followed by the Ford Ferguson TVO, and then was swiftly overtaken by Ferguson Diesel. After that they became known as Massey Ferguson with various model numbers.

“During the late 70s and 80s the market for tractors opened up allowing other makes and models available for purchase and all sorts can now be witnessed working the green fields of Ireland.”

Back to the current day and the Parade, another Monaghan man, Willie Finnegan is the person responsible behind the presence of the vintage tractors that are proudly presented each year.

A tractor of yesteryear: Willie Finnegan’s FergussonT20 Diesel, making hay the old way, albeit in Earlswood in 2012! Margaret and Willie with Jim Mohan, Tommy Flannery, Paddy Rochford and Mary Flannery

A tractor of yesteryear: Willie Finnegan’s FergussonT20 Diesel, making hay the old way, albeit in Earlswood in 2012! Margaret and Willie with Jim Mohan, Tommy Flannery, Paddy Rochford and Mary Flannery

Willie told us, “Involving tractors wasn’t top of the agenda at first. My best friend Jim Mohan (R.I.P.) and I cycled the route on old bicycles replicating the journey to the Ballroom of Romance, where you’d offer a lift on your bike to a lady and hope in return for a dance or two!

“Myself and Jim’s Parade ideas turned to our love of tractors and in subsequent years that was what our displays progressed to. “Over the years we had winning displays featuring various themes including: Blarney Castle- Co. Cork, Old Rusty Bridge By The Mill- Co. Monaghan, Turf Man from Ardee- Co. Lough, Ha’Penny Bridge – Dublin, Stone Outside Dan Murphy’s Door- Blackrock, The Poitín Still and Our Lady of Knock to name but a few. However it was Jim that was the creative and artistic one and he always had the last say!”

Sadly Jim passed away earlier on this year, and with a tear in his eye, Willie continued, “Jim was my best friend and he died in my arms, but I would not let him down and continued to orgainise this year’s Parade tractor presence.”

Proud owners and their tractors travelled from as far away as London to take part in this years St. Patrick’s Day Parade and were most generously catered for by The Old Crown in Digbeth, with refreshments and a hearty meal of bacon and cabbage, which was sponsored by the Monaghan Association.

Willie continued, “I cannot praise The Old Crown enough, Kieran and his staff really looked after us well and done a fine job!”

Unbeknown to the large Parade going public, there was a best tractor competition, which was judged by Colin Bartley, the Head Governor of Prison Service in Dublin.

He announced that the winner was Danny Lynch, from London with his grey Ferguson T-20. 2nd place went to Tony McGovern and his Fergusson 35, which was resplendent in grey on gold.

3rd place was awarded to Galway native Tommy Morrissey with a sparkling red and white Massey Fergusson 165.

Willie continued, ‘It’s all thanks to Ron Turner of the North Worcestershire Vintage Tractor Club, for spreading the word to invite the drivers from further a field to take part.

“All of the tractors in the Parade were the work horses of their day. More of them were scrapped and abandoned or simply left to rot in ditches and haybarns etc. However these have been rescued and lovingly, authentically and most carefully restored.

“Ahead of the parade, every owner and driver had spent hours cleaning and designing their tractor for us to enjoy.”

Although technology has moved on, tractors still remain as integral now as they were then, and for Willie and friends to display the ancestors of our modern day machine, we can appreciate how far we have come; from the labour intensive life of old to our modern day mechanisms, we won’t forget it’s origins, but can appreciate at how the tractor has evolved.

To finish our meeting I asked Willie what are his plans regarding future parades, as it won’t be the same for him with out his dear friend Jim.

Willie said, As long as the blood can run through my veins I will always come out and fly the flag for Monaghan.”