Life and Times of Anna May

LAOIS Hospice last week played host to two well known successful women with strong Laois connections when Eileen Dunne and Anna May McHugh took to the stage in the Killeshin Hotel for the Laois Hospice annual meeting.

LAOIS Hospice last week played host to two well known successful women with strong Laois connections when Eileen Dunne and Anna May McHugh took to the stage in the Killeshin Hotel for the Laois Hospice annual meeting.

A sizeable crowd braved the cold and rain to come out and hear Anna May talk about her remarkable life and career as chairperson of the National Ploughing Association (NPA). She was interviewed by RTE newsreader Eileen Dunne, whose late father hailed from Clonaslee.

Anna May was recently honoured with an Ernst and Young award for her outstanding contributions to rural life in Ireland, and has had a long and illustrious career with the NPA, as well as organising the National Ploughing Championships every year.

Describing herself as “a country girl at heart,” Anna May was born in Ballylinan, and grew up helping out on the family farm. She spoke about her childhood and described travelling to school in a pony and trap. Becoming involved with the ploughing championships in the 1950s, Anna May became secretary in 1956, when the championships were horse ploughing instead of today’s huge tractor event.

Working in a male dominated industry, Anna May became managing director of the NPA in 1973.

“There were 28 or 29 men going for the job and one man didn’t want to see the other man getting it, so I was the choice,” she laughed.

Such a responsibility came at a price though and Anna May told the Killeshin Hotel audience that “for a full year I forgot how to laugh, I didn’t relax”. However Anna May stuck it out, and saw the championships grow from 25 exhibitors to 1,100 plus this year.

Even with such a busy working life, Anna May made a home and family, marrying her neighbour John McHugh in 1966. She has two children - DJ and Anna Marie - who are both very involved with the ploughing championships. Anna is still as dedicated to the NPA as she ever was and told the meeting that “every organisation needs to change, you should never give up marketing yourself”.

The National Ploughing Championships grow and expand every year and each year have something different for spectators. As the organisation has changed, so has the audience. The three day event is one of the biggest outdoor exhibition events in Europe, attracting people from all walks of life, with 180,000 people arriving to this year’s event in Athy.

“It is hard to please everybody but you do the best you can,” said Anna May.

But the remarkable woman has pleased many throughout her career and is not planning on stopping anytime soon, with preparations well underway for next year’s championships in Wexford.

The meeting was presented by Seamus O’ Donoghue, chairperson of Laois Hospice who described the work the organisation does for people around the county with terminal illness.

He told the meeting that the Laois Hospice budget is “provided by you and all monies raised go towards the provision of support and care.” Laois Hospice has a number of fundraisers throughout the year, inlcuding the Slieve Bloom walk and the Laois Vintage supporters event each summer. There are also Hospice coffee mornings and a sunflower day. For more information visit www.laoishospice.ie.