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Sunday 25 June 2017

'They don't want to know about rural Ireland' - Lady behind the Ploughing hits out at 'D4 politicians'

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Anna May McHugh arriving to the 2015 National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, County Laois. Pic:Mark Condren.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Anna May McHugh arriving to the 2015 National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, County Laois. Pic:Mark Condren.
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

Rural communities must fight for their rights as politicians "don't want to know" about life outside Dublin 4, the National Ploughing Championships (NPA) chief has said.

Speaking at a conference on 'Rebuilding Rural Ireland - lessons from Sport', Anna May McHugh, urged communities to "stand together" as she fears the disconnect between the Government and the grassroots may never truly mend.

Fellow speakers, including Tipperary's All-Ireland winning senior hurling manager Michael Ryan, Irish rugby legend John Hayes and former Clare hurler and businessman Padraig Giblin, reiterated this view to around 200 attendees at MIC, St Patrick's Campus, Thurles.

"It's up to us to keep rural Ireland alive because the people in Dublin, many of them, don't realise what goes on in rural areas and don't compliment us enough on what we are capable of," said Ms McHugh, from Ballylinan, Co Laois.

"We listen to politicians over and over and all they are doing is arguing with each other. They don't want to know what happens outside Dublin 4, but we must make them realise and appreciate what happens," she said.

Just three months after the launch of the Government's 'Action Plan for Rural Development,' all the panellists voiced disappointment at threats to 200 post offices and cuts to vital bus services.

Former Irish rugby international John Hayes; Tipperary hurling manager Michael Ryan; Anna May McHugh; Clare rural entrepreneur Padraig Giblin and Rev Eamonn Fitzgibbon, Director of Irish Institute for Pastoral Studies, MIC at the Building Rural Communities conference in Thurles PHOTO: Brian Gavin Press 22
Former Irish rugby international John Hayes; Tipperary hurling manager Michael Ryan; Anna May McHugh; Clare rural entrepreneur Padraig Giblin and Rev Eamonn Fitzgibbon, Director of Irish Institute for Pastoral Studies, MIC at the Building Rural Communities conference in Thurles PHOTO: Brian Gavin Press 22

They are encouraging communities to come together with innovative ideas on how to diversify their unique landscapes into vibrant and profitable projects such as hill walking amenities, adventure centres, drama groups, local festivals and sports clubs.

Ms McHugh, managing director of the NPA since 1973, illustrated this potential through the success of the NPA, which brought 283,000 spectators to Screggan, Co Offaly, last September.

President Michael D Higgins described the three day event as "the Olympics of the land".

One Irish produced quarter pounder burger was sold every second, one chicken fillet every 10 seconds, 240,000 cups of tea and coffee were consumed as well as 16 tonnes of prime Irish beef and three tonne of locally sourced pork.

"The first competition was held in Athy on Feb 16, 1931 and the total cost of it was £9.35. I can tell you, I am looking at the balance sheet for this year and the cost of running the event is in the region of €5m," she said.

She stresses that it wouldn't be possible without the support of local contractors, GAA clubs and volunteers. Seventeen GAA clubs parked cars on the 800 acre site last September.

"When you talk about community and organising an event you need plenty of help believe you me. When you give a person responsibility, they will work hard for you and the organisation whether it's a sports club, a charity group or the ploughing.

"Also if you involve the community you have them all talking about it and it's the cheapest publicity you will get," she said.

Up to the year 2000, Ms McHugh said the Government and national broadcaster dismissed the NPA as "just something happening down the country, it's not important".

"We had to sell ourselves in order for them to recognise us. You have to keep fighting the whole way up, it's an uphill battle the whole time.

"We incorporated other side events, a fashion show (1984), the livestock section (1987), then forestry came in, the car arena and exhibitions to attract more and more people and that has led to the success of it today," she said.

RTE now broadcast a live one hour programme each evening of event. Up to 800 journalists covered the show last year.

"It's up to each and every one of us to make our contribution to rebuilding rural Ireland. I believe the National Ploughing is making a contribution because I can tell you my office is in my own home, year after year I get invitations to open an office in the Irish Farm Centre and my reply is 'if they want us, they can find us'.

"That is the attitude we have to take, be strong, firm, stand up, be counted and don't be afraid to fight for the rights of your people which you are entitled to," she said.


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