National Ploughing Championships
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|National Ploughing Championships|
View of the National Ploughing Championships held in Tullamore, County Offaly, 2007
|Location(s)||Ratheniska, County Laois (current)|
|Organized by||National Ploughing Association|
The National Ploughing Championships (Irish: Comórtas Náisiúnta Treabhdóireachta) (previously known as The National Ploughing Championships Machinery & Livestock Exhibition) is an agricultural show in Ireland. The event is one of the largest outdoor events in the world with over 1500 exhibitors and attendances of over 200,000. It takes place each year in September.
The first inter-county ploughing contest contest was between County Wexford and County Kildare on 16 February 1931 in a 26-acre field at Coursetown in Athy. Since then, the National Ploughing Championships has expanded to over 800 acres with 1,400 exhibitors. It has extended beyond ploughing, farming or machinery enthusiasts, now featuring attractions such as a tented trade village, live entertainment, music & dancing, fashion shows, craft village, live cooking demonstrations, celebrity appearances, sheep dog trials, pony games & welly throwing.
The event attracted a record 279,500 visitors in 2014.
The Mission Statement for the Association in 1931 stated simply: “To bring the message of good ploughing to all parts of the country and to provide a pleasant and friendly place to meet and do business”. In September 2013, the Farming Magazine, Grassroots, in exploring the progress of NPA in an article entitled 'NPA Recalls'(p53) asked the question "Did NPA live up to its Mission Statement?" and concluded "There is no doubt that it has, tenfold".
The story of the National Ploughing Association (NPA) that has unfolded was described by Examiner newspaper by asking what the secret to ploughing and hurling success is. "Both national events have a common requirement for participants and spectators — buckets of stamina and a focused approach. Thousands of people again flocked to the final day of the rural pageant in 2015 and many of them paid homage to the enduring triumphs of the Kilkenny hurlers and the National Ploughing Association headed by Anna May McHugh."[according to whom?] They are both an integral part of the story of Rural Ireland’s development, growing from humble beginnings before the Wars, until taking the prominent place they hold on the world stage today.
Following in the footsteps of the GAA and going on to become another Irish Community phenomenon, the National Ploughing Association (NPA) as it’s now known was born of the humble seeds sown in that 1931 challenge between its co-founders Kildareman JJ Bergin and Wexfordman Denis Allen. It continued to grow through the endeavours, foresight and the development work of its three extraordinary Managing Directors and their director teams  throughout its 84 year lifetime to become the powerful International showcase of Irish Farming it has become today.
Inspirational founder, JJ Bergin, was NPA’s first Managing Director and he laid the foundations for what was to follow. He was a man of acknowledged tremendous foresight. In 1952 he represented Ireland at the first meeting of the World Ploughing Organisation and was appointed WPO vice president. The first World Contest was hosted by Canada in 1953, and the second here in Kerry in 1954, Killarney being the first European venue for the ‘Worlds’, when 10 countries competed. In 1954 the first ploughing competition for women was introduced, the 'Farmerette' class, which was open to girls and single, married or widowed women and without reference to age. The winner was known as 'Queen of the Plough'. In 1955 the National Ploughing Championships went onto to become a 2 day event. The Association became a limited liability company and was incorporated on 2 March 1956, with number of directors limited to forty, with period of office of one year, a Liability limited by guarantee and without shares. JJ continued to manage NPA until his passing in 1958.
A list of the dates, venues and winners of all the National Ploughing Championships from the first event at Coursetown, Athy, County Kildare in 1931 until 1990 have been published. Co Kilkenny.
In 1958 the NPA appointed Kilkenny GAA 1933 All Ireland medal winner  and Senior Hurling star Sean O’Farrell as Managing Director to harness its already evident future potential, and to be laid on those foundations. A national bread baking competition was introduced by NPA in co-operation with ESB in 1958 that continues to this day. In 1959 he represented the NPA at the 7th World Ploughing Contest to Armoy, County Antrim, Northern Ireland and its first time held there. A special moment followed for him when he got to ‘bring home’ the NPA Championships to Burnchurch, in 1959, while returning to Danesfort, Co Kilkenny in 1964 and again in 1970. He then attended the 8th World Ploughing Contest in Tor Mancina, Roma, Italy 1960  where he proudly presented a distinctive block of his native Kilkenny Marble as Ireland’s contribution to Rome’s ‘Cairn of Peace’ in 1960 One of the highlights of his tenure was when representing Ireland at 9th World Ploughing Contest, Grignon, Paris, France 1961 his role required him to address a dinner where their special guest of honour was the then French President Charles de Gaulle. John was a big man over 6 ft. but he proudly displayed that photo on his wall, dwarfed as he was by the 6’ 5” tall President De Gaulle. The first ever Ploughing Championships filmed by RTÉ National TV was the one held in Killarney in 1961. It was filmed on 8 and 9 November 1961 for the first ever episode of the farming programme ‘On the Land’, broadcast on 1 January 1962, featuring both Sean and Mrs Grosvenor, and remarkable in that it was the day after Teilifís Éireann first went on air. He continued to build on NPA’s international potential and in 1964 the NPA sent two competitors to Fuchsenbigl, Near Vienna, Austria, where Ireland won their first World Title. The late Charlie Keegan, from County Wicklow was that winner and it marked a huge Irish International achievement for NPA at that time. He was an inspiration to future competitors, demonstrating that we Irish had the standard and the potential to compete with the best in the World. Arriving home from the World Contest in Vienna, the Wicklowman was proudly brought home to Wicklow on an open top bus to be met by bonfires along the roadside as they greeted NPA’s first World Ploughing Champion. That was a special day for Sean, as Wicklow was his adopted county. The Irish Times reported how the tractor on which Charlie Keegan won World Ploughing Championships in 1964 restored, a green Deutz D40L tractor has since been restored to its original condition by his grandson, Michael, after 1,000 hours restoration. At the National Championships 1964, a new Youth class was introduced for Youths 21- 28. In 1965 Esso became an NPA sponsors and introduced the Esso Supreme Trophy which is still presented to the Senior Conventional Champion annually. In 1966 a new competition was introduced to cater for Students from the Agricultural Colleges. In 1969 the Irish Countrywomen's Association (ICA) were invited to give demonstrations in cookery, crafts. This also combined with introduction of the Country Markets as the ploughing was an ideal venue to sell produce. Sean held that position until his sudden death in 1972. The Kilkenny People in their September 1972 obituary recorded that he was NPA Managing Director and a member of World Ploughing Organisation and that the graveside oration was delivered by Seán Ó Síocháin, General Secretary of GAA.
The second half of that entire NPA Story, all of 42 years, was led by NPA Secretary of the time, Anna May McHugh. In 1973 she was appointed NPA managing director. That was also the year when 20th World Ploughing Contest was held in Wexford, Republic of Ireland as a four-day Contest as attended by 100,000 people, when 25 countries took part. Further World Ploughing events were since held in Ireland with 29th World Ploughing Contest in Wexford in 1981; the 43rd World Ploughing Contest at Oak Park, Carlow, Ireland on 29 September - 9 October 1996 and the 53rd World Ploughing Contest at Tullow, Carlow on 22 September - 2 October 2006. In 1994 Wexford man Martin Kehoe brought home the first of his three World Champion titles - in 1994 in Outram, Dunedin, New Zealand; in 1995 in Egerton, Njoro, Kenya and in 1999 in Pomacle, France. The only other Irish World Champion was Eamonn Tracey in Saint Jean D'Illac - Bordeaux France in 2014.
Anna May, who has also served for 61 years as Secretary of the NPA organisation, has now brought fruition what could only have been an big idea of NPA founders back in 1931, had become a dream by 1958, and an aspiration by 1972 to make their collective vision a reality by 2015. In September 2015, National Ploughing Association Managing Director Anna May McHugh was named Officier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole by French Ambassador to Ireland Mr Jean-Pierre Thébault. She is the Irish Board Member to the Board of the World Ploughing Organization  where her daughter Anna Marie McHugh is now General Secretary.
Locally, the number of national exhibitors in 1975 was 100, when number of counties competing was 21 and number of demonstrators only 18. In 1978 the Championships returned to County Kilkenny this time to the village where Anna May McHugh's predecessor, Sean O'Farrell, was born, Knocktopher. Attendance figures grew very steadily throughout the 70s & 80s until 1988, when the event was expanded to 3 days in order to cater for heavy traffic. According to NPA, the ICA and Country Markets then started giving cookery and craft demonstrations at the Shows; new Events were added - the Fashion Show in 1981, Livestock Section in 1987, of Nissan Classic in 1989; their introduction of Shopping & Business Arcades in 1985 & Kverneland World Class Challenge; the “Tented Village” era was developed very significantly at the Ploughing throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s; Enterprise Ireland brought delegations from a number of countries to review the event and exhibitors have travelled from Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Poland and the USA. Between 2000 and 2011 the Ploughing Championships grew to 180,000 spectators, 320 competitors, 1,100 exhibitors, 14 shopping arcades and was generating €10m for the local Irish economy. Anna May and her 32 member board of directors team have steered NPA into becoming one of the largest outdoor annual events in Europe.
Now in its 84th year NPA records that Events Costs in the region of 3.5 Million Euro, have Ploughing Associations in every county in the country, hold the biggest National Ploughing Championships in the World, over 320 competitors participate in the National Finals, cater for 19 All-Ireland Ploughing Title Classes, are Ireland’s primary Agricultural Exhibition, and hold one of the largest Agricultural Events in Europe. Many international visitors, exhibitors and delegations from right around Europe and come from as far afield as New Zealand now participate. Events have up to 1,100 Trade Stands which exhibit billions of Euros worth of the most modern agri-equipment in the World on exhibition at the Championships.
NPA are still a voluntary association depending on voluntary efforts of our members from all around the country. With an average of 180,000 spectators, the NPA attendance has grown from the 3,000 that attended in 1932 to the 280,000 heights it reached in 2014 and 281,000 in 2015. Together they are a shop window to what Irish people can achieve, working together, and a great credit to spirit of Rural Ireland ever since its foundations.
|Year||Photo||Location||Start date||End date||Attendance||Notes|
|1942||example||Cloghan, County Dublin|
|1957||example||Boyle, County Carlow|
|1959||example||Burnchurch, County Kilkenny|
|1964||example||Danesfort, County Kilkenny|
|1965||example||Enniskerry, County Wicklow|
|1967||example||Tullow, County Carlow|
|1968||example||Mallow, County Cork|
|1969||example||Rockwell College, Cashel, County Tipperary|
|1970||example||Danesfort, County Kilkenny|
|1971||example||Finglas, County Dublin|
|1972||example||Rockwell College, Cashel, County Tipperary|
|1973||example||Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford|
|1974||example||Watergrasshill, County Cork|
|1975||example||Bennettsbridge, County Kilkenny|
|1976||example||Wells, Gorey, County Wexford|
|1977||example||Rockwell College, Cashel, County Tipperary|
|1978||example||Knocktopher, County Kilkenny|
|1979||example||Watergrasshill, County Cork|
|1980||example||Cashel, County Tipperary|
|1984||example||Danesfort, County Kilkenny|
|1985||example||Kilkea, County Kildare|
|1986||example||Woodsgift, Urlingford, County Kilkenny|
|1987||example||Charleville Estate, Tullamore, County Offaly|
|1988||example||Oak Park Research Centre, Carlow|
|1989||example||Oak Park Research Centre, Carlow|
|1990||example||Oak Park Research Centre, Carlow|
|1991||example||Crecora, County Limerick|
|1992||example||Carrigtwohill, Midleton, County Cork|
|1993||example||Shanballyard, Clerihan, Clonmel|
|1995||example||Ballacolla, County Laois|
|1996||example||Oak Park Research Centre, Carlow|
|1997||example||Parkmore, Fiveally, Birr, County Offaly|
|1998||example||Ballycarney, Ferns, County Wexford|
|1999||example||Castletownroche, Mallow||28 September||30 September|
|2000||example||Ballacolla, County Laois||26 September||28 September||example|
|2001||example||Ballacolla, County Laois||2 October||4 October||example|
|2002||example||Ballacolla, County Laois||24 September||26 September||example|
|2003||example||Ballinabrackey, County Meath, (5 km South of Kinnegad)||23 September||25 September||example|
|2004||example||Athy, County Kildare||example|
|2005||example||Mogeely, Midleton, County Cork||27 September 2005||29 September 2005||example|
|2006||example||Grangeford, Tullow, County Carlow||27 September||28 September||example||Also hosted World Ploughing Championships 29–30 September|
Tullamore, County Offaly
|25 September||27 September||example|
|2008||example||Cuffesgrange, County Kilkenny, (8 km Southwest of Kilkenny City)||23 September||25 September||example|
|2009||example||Cardenton, Athy, County Kildare||example|
|2010||Cardenton, Athy, County Kildare|
|2011||example||Cardenton, Athy, County Kildare||20 September||22 September||example|
|2012||example||Heathpark, New Ross, County Wexford||example|
|2013||example||Ratheniska, County Laois||example|
|2014||example||Ratheniska, County Laois||280,000|
|2015||example||Ratheniska, County Laois||22 September||24 September||281,000|
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