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National Ploughing Championships

The National Ploughing Championships (Irish: Comórtas Náisiúnta Treabhdóireachta) (previously known as The National Ploughing Championships Machinery & Livestock Exhibition[1][2]) or (NPC) is an outdoor agricultural show in Ireland incorporating a ploughing contest.[3] Held every September, it draws over 1,500 exhibitors and achieves attendances of over 280,000.[3]

National Ploughing Championships
View of the National Ploughing Championships held in Tullamore, County Offaly, 2007
Status Active
Genre Agriculture
Venue Varies
Location(s) Tullamore, Offaly (current)
Country Ireland
Inaugurated 1931
Attendance 291,500 (2017)
Organized by National Ploughing Association



The first Irish inter-county ploughing contest was held between County Wexford and County Kildare on 16 February 1931 in a 26-acre field at Coursetown in Athy in County Kildare.[4] Since then, the National Ploughing Championships has expanded to over 800 acres with 1,700 exhibitors.[5][6] It has been extended beyond ploughing, farming or machinery enthusiasts, to 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.[7]

In 2014 the event attracted a record 279,500 visitors, 281,000 in 2015, 283,000 in 2016 and 291,500 in 2017.[8][9][10]

All Ireland Pole climbing competition at the National Ploughing Championships in 2011

The Founding Fathers[11]Edit

The original mission statement for the National Ploughing Association, the body organising the championships, was set out as: "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".[12]

One of the co-founders of the Association, JJ Bergin, became its first managing director. In 1952 he represented Ireland at the first meeting of the World Ploughing Organisation (WPO) and was appointed their vice president.[13] The first World Contest was hosted by Canada in 1953, and the second was in Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland in 1954. That was also the first European venue for the ‘Worlds’, when 10 countries competed. Also in 1954, the first ploughing competition for women was introduced, called the 'Farmerette' class, and 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'.[13] In 1955 the National Ploughing Championships expanded into 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; its liability limited by guarantee and without shares.

JJ Bergin continued to manage NPA until his passing in 1958.[14]

When the founding Managing Director of NPA, JJ Bergin, died in 1958, NPA appointed Kilkenny All-Ireland hurling winner Seán O'Farrell as Managing Director, a role he held until his death in 1972.[15] 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 that was the first time they held there.[16] He attended the 8th World Ploughing Contest in Tor Mancina, Rome, Italy 1960[17] where he proudly presented a distinctive block of his native Kilkenny Marble as Ireland’s contribution to Rome’s ‘Cairn of Peace’[18] in 1960[19] One of the highlights of his tenure of office was in 1961 when representing Ireland at 9th World Ploughing Contest, Thiverval-Grignon, France. He was officially introduced to President of the French Republic, Charles De Gaulle.[20] 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. Another big event was when the first ever Ploughing Championships were filmed by RTÉ at Killarney in 1961, believed to be the first outside coverage by the new television station. It was filmed on 8 and 9 November 1961 and broadcast in the first ever episode of the farming programme ‘On the Land’, on 1 January 1962. The film, featuring both local organiser, Mrs Grosvenor, and Seán, was remarkable in that it was broadcast the day after Teilifís Éireann first went on air.[21] Teilifís Éireann Archives, itself founded on 1 June 1960, released in 2016 this video from 1961 of then NPA MD, Seán, and current NPA MD, Anna May, at the presentation of the NPC Farmerette trophy to Eiline Brennan from Laois being crowned Queen of the Plough, 1961.[22]

Seán continued to build on NPA’s international profile and in 1964 the NPA sent two competitors to Fuchsenbigl, near Vienna, Austria, where Ireland won their first World Title when the late Charlie Keegan, from County Wicklow was the winner. It marked a huge Irish International achievement for NPA at that time and was an inspiration to future competitors, demonstrating that the Irish had the standard and the potential to compete with the best in the world. Arriving home from the world contest in Vienna,[23] the Wicklow man was proudly brought home to Enniskerry, County Wicklow on an open top bus to be met by bonfires along the roadside as they greeted NPA’s first World Ploughing Champion.[24] That was a special day for Sean,[25] as County Wicklow was his adopted county. The Irish Times reported how the tractor on which Charlie Keegan won World Ploughing Championships in 1964 had now been restored. It was a green Deutz D40L tractor that was magnificently restored to its original condition by his grandson, Michael, devoting 1,000 hours to restoration work.[26]

At the National Championships 1964, a new Youth class was introduced for Youths 21-28. In 1965 Esso became an NPA sponsor 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 and crafts. This also combined with introduction of the Country Markets as the ploughing was an ideal venue to sell produce. Seán held the position of MD 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.

A Dream FulfilledEdit

The second half of the NPA's 84-year story was led by NPA's long serving Secretary of that time from 1954, Anna May McHugh. In 1973 she was appointed NPA's managing director. Anna May, has served for 61 years as Secretary of the NPA organisation. She brought to fruition what was once a big idea of NPA founders back in 1931, what became a dream by 1958, and what had been just aspiration by 1972 - turning their collective dream into reality by 2018. And in September 2015, National Ploughing Association Managing Director Anna May McHugh was awarded the Officier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole by the French Ambassador to Ireland Mr Jean-Pierre Thébault.[27] Anna May is the Irish Board Member to the Board of the World Ploughing Organisation, where her daughter, Anna Marie McHugh, is now General Secretary.[28]

1973 was also the year when 20th World Ploughing Contest was held in County Wexford in a four-day contest that was attended by 100,000 people, and when 25 countries took part. Further World Ploughing events have since been held in Ireland with 29th World Ploughing Contest in Wexford in 1981; the 43rd World Ploughing Contest at Oak Park, County Carlow in 1996 and the 53rd World Ploughing Contest at Tullow County Carlow in 2006.[16] In 1994 Wexford man Martin Kehoe brought home the first of his three World Champion titles - in 1994 from Outram, near Dunedin, New Zealand; in 1995 from Egerton, Njoro, Kenya and in 1999 from Pomacle, France. It is noteworthy that the only other Irish World Champion (apart from first winner, Charlie Keegan) was Eamonn Tracey, winning in Saint Jean D'Illac, France in 2014.[29] Milestones in their illustrious history were recorded in Independent Newspapers in 2011.[30]

Together with her 32-member board of directors team, she has steered NPA into becoming one of the largest outdoor annual events in Europe.[31] Among their achievements, NPA records that in 1975 the number of national exhibitors was 100, the number of counties competing was 21 and the number of demonstrators was 18. In 1978 the Championships returned to County Kilkenny this time to the village where Anna May McHugh's predecessor, Seán O'Farrell, was born, Knocktopher. Attendance figures grew very steadily throughout the 1970s and 1980s until 1988, when the event was expanded to 3 days in order to cater for heavy traffic due to escalating attendances. According to NPA records, the ICA and Country Markets then started giving cookery and craft demonstrations at the shows. Other new events were added with the Fashion Show in 1981; their introduction of Shopping and Business Arcades in 1985 and Kverneland World Class Challenge; the Livestock Section in 1987 and the Nissan Classic in 1989. They record that the "Tented Village" era was developed substantially at the ploughing contests throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. They credit Enterprise Ireland with bringing delegations from a number of countries to review the event, with exhibitors travelling from Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Poland and the USA.

Between 2000 and 2011 the Ploughing Championships had grown to 180,000 spectators, 320 competitors, 1,100 exhibitors, 14 shopping arcades and was by then generating €10m for the local Irish economy.[30]

Now in its 84th year NPA records that Event costs are in the region of €3.5 million, and have Ploughing Associations in every county in the country of Ireland.[32] NPA claims to now hold the biggest National Ploughing Championships in the world, where over 320 competitors participate in the National Finals; to cater for 19 All-Ireland Ploughing Title Classes; are Ireland’s primary Agricultural Exhibition, and hold one of the largest agricultural events in Europe; that many international visitors, exhibitors and delegations from right around Europe and from as far afield as New Zealand now participate; that events have up to 1,100 trade stands which exhibit billions of euro worth of the most modern agri-equipment in the world on exhibition at the Championships.

It is extraordinary that NPA are still a voluntary association that depends on voluntary efforts of their members from all around the country to achieve such goals. With an average of 180,000 spectators, the NPA attendance has grown from the 3,000 that attended in 1932 to over 280,000 in the 2010s.[33] NPA's National Ploughing Championships (NPC) are a shop window to what Irish people can achieve when working together, and a great credit to spirit of rural Ireland ever since the country gained its independence one century ago.[34]



  1. ^ "National Ploughing Championships Machinery & Livestock Exhibition 2005". National Ploughing Association of Ireland. 2005. Archived from the original on 5 March 2005. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  2. ^ "The National Ploughing Championships Machinery & Livestock Exhibition 2002". National Ploughing Association of Ireland. 2002. Archived from the original on 2 August 2002. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  3. ^ a b Flaherty, Rachel; Griffin, Dan (22 September 2015). "Ploughing championships: President attends first day". Irish Times. Archived from the original on 1 October 2015. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  4. ^ Cox, Valerie (2017). A Ploughing People: Farming Life Celebrated, Stories, Traditions, The Championships. Ireland: Hachette Books Ireland. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-473-65945-2.
  5. ^ "National Ploughing Championships 2017: Tractor highlights on-site". Agriland. 18 September 2017. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Background of Event/". National Ploughing Association. 2012. Archived from the original on 15 September 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  7. ^ "NPC 2015". Quality Freight. August 2015. Archived from the original on 24 November 2015. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  8. ^ "National Ploughing Championships - home page". National Ploughing Association. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  9. ^ "National Ploughing Association of Ireland". National Ploughing Association. 2016.
  10. ^ "National Ploughing Championships 2017: Tractor highlights on-site". Agriland. 21 September 2017. Archived from the original on 2 October 2017. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  11. ^ Valerie, Cox (2017). A Ploughing People. Ireland: Hachette Books Ireland. pp. 13–32.'Farrell&f=false. ISBN 978-1-473-65945-2.
  12. ^ "History of the NPA & Championships: Formation & Origins of the National Ploughing Association 1931 – 2012". Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  13. ^ a b "Milestones in the history of the National ploughing championships". Business: Ploughing Championships. Independent Newspapers.
  14. ^ "Milestones in the history of the National ploughing championships".
  15. ^ Cox, Valerie (2017). A Ploughing People. Ireland: Hachette Books Ireland. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-473-65945-2.
  16. ^ a b "Past World Events". World Ploughing Organisation.
  17. ^ "History of the NPA & Championships".
  18. ^ "Cairns of Peace erected during annual World Ploughing Matches". 67 Peace Stones, Rocks, Slabs & Cairns Around the World. Peace Monuments.
  19. ^ "History of the NPA & Championships".
  20. ^ Cox, Valerie (2017). A Ploughing People. Ireland: Hachette Books Ireland. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-473-65945-2.
  21. ^ ""It's a little bit bumpy for top class ploughing" 1961". RTÉ Archives. RTÉ National TV.
  22. ^ "Farmerettes At The Ploughing 1961". RTE Archives. RTE. 1961.
  23. ^ "Champions of the World Ploughing Contests since 1953". World Ploughing Organisation.
  24. ^ "Charlie Keegan, World Champion, winning the 12th World Ploughing Contest, Fuchsenbigl, Near Vienna, Austria 1964".
  25. ^ "NPA Managing Direction Seán O'Farrell on location with Charlie Keegan and co at the Ploughing Championships, Kilmacanogue, County Wicklow, 17 July 1962".
  26. ^ "Tractor on which Charlie Keegan won World Ploughing Championships in 1964 restored".
  27. ^ "Ordre du Mérite Agricole Conferral to Mrs Anna May McHugh". Irish National Ploughing Association. NPA. 2015.
  28. ^ "Structure". WPO. World Ploughing Organisation.
  29. ^ "Champions of the World Ploughing Contests since 1953". World Ploughing Organisation.
  30. ^ a b "Milestones in the history of the National ploughing championships". Business: Ploughing Championships. Independent Newspapers.
  31. ^ "Irish Business, News and Lifestyle". Europe’s largest Outdoor Exhibition and Agricultural Trade Show, the National Ploughing Championships finishes on Thursday. Archived from the original on 16 February 2015.
  32. ^ "County Ploughing Dates 2014/2015". Irish National Ploughing Association. NPA.
  33. ^ "Another Record Breaking Year". Irish National Ploughing Association. NPA. Archived from the original on 5 October 2015.
  34. ^ "Take a tour of the massive National Ploughing Championships site". 22 September 2015. Retrieved 1 October 2015.

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