Eighty years a-growing at Ploughing Championships
IT STARTED OUT as a challenge between two friends but today the National Ploughing Championships is a multi-million euro business. Last year’s event in Athy generated €36 million in visitor spending and next week’s championships in New Ross are set to do the same.
The first event was held in 1931 when Denis Allen from Gorey and JJ Bergin from Athy organised a match to see which county had the best ploughmen.
“In 1931, the event cost nine pounds, three [shillings] and five pence to run,” recalls the event’s managing director Anna May McHugh. Irish Ropes in Newbridge donated a pair of ropes as a prize.
Today, it is one of the biggest events of its type in Europe and costs about €3 million to run. Standholders pay from €500 to 44,000 to have a presence at the show.
Last year, turnover from gate receipts, exhibitors fees and sponsorship accounted to the bulk of the €4.02 million revenue of the National Ploughing Association – a figure that was
5 per cent up on the previous year despite the ongoing impact of recession.
However, rising costs saw pre-tax profit fall by a quarter to €900,868, according to figures filed with Companies Office. At the end of most recent financial year, the association had accumulated profit of €9.5 million.
McHugh got involved when Bergin asked her father if he knew anyone who would help him in the office. “I went and I never left it,” she says. Her first championships were in 1956 and she has no intention of retiring any time soon.
Ploughing is clearly in the blood.
Her daughter Anna Marie is the National Ploughing Association’s press officer and is married to ploughing champion Declan Buttle.
And her son DJ, a farmer, is chairman of Laois County Ploughing Association.
McHugh faced some hostility when she took over the running of the event in the 1950s. Her maiden name was Brennan, and when she answered the phone, people would ask to speak to Mr Brennan.
“It wasn’t terribly well accepted then. It was all men folk in the agricultural scene that time and it took a while for people to get used to the idea that it was a lady behind it.”
That lady remembers when the championships were a one-day event with just 25 stands. “We saw that going up to 100 and I thought, well this is it now.”
But it continued to grow. Next week’s championships will take place on a 700 acre site with more than 1,300 exhibitors. The organisers have estimated that if a visitor wanted to spend just a minute at every stand, it would take 20 hours to get around the site.
It includes machinery exhibitions, livestock shows, forestry exhibitions, sheep dog trials, fashion shows and, of course, all sorts of ploughing.
This year the show – which runs from Tuesday to Thursday next week – will see the largest ever number of exhibitors, demonstrations and stands in the food sector.