Anna May McHugh, managing director of the National Ploughing Championships, was among four people conferred with honorary degrees of the University of Dublin at Trinity College Dublin today.

Other recipients of Trinity’s highest honour were the first European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, human rights campaigner Colm O’Gorman and businessman Leonard O’Hagan. Chancellor Mary McAleese handed out the awards at a ceremony conducted in Latin in the historic Public Theatre.

Anna May McHugh has been managing director of the National Ploughing Championships since 1973.

Since that time, the National Ploughing Championships has become Europe’s largest outdoor agricultural trade exhibition and she has been acclaimed as the driving force behind the event’s spectacular growth.


She is also the Irish Board Member of the World Ploughing Organisation since her appointment in 1997 as the first woman on the board. She has led the co-ordination of hosting the World Ploughing Contest on the five occasions it has been held in Ireland.

She has worked for the National Ploughing Association for almost 70 years, first as a secretary to the founder, then company secretary and finally as managing director.

Ahead of her time

As the driving force behind ‘the ploughing’ she was truly ahead of her time - a beacon for women in a man’s world. She recalls the early days as being difficult.

“In the years that I speak about, women were not at the top of organisations as such [and] I remember the days when there were only menfolk coming to the ploughing, and I thought ‘we must do something about that’.”

Anna May attributes her success to the team she has around her from ploughing associations right around the country. She has always believed in bringing people along with her and says she would never ask anyone to do something she would not do herself.

In 2024, still running the show, 24 years after the national retirement age, she has now also become a beacon for older people as an Age Friendly Ambassador for her home county of Laois.

'Worthy recipient'

Public orator Anna Chahoud praised Anna May McHugh as “the worthy recipient of countless honours for her 70 years of services rendered to Irish agriculture and culture.”

She added: “She has peacefully transformed Irish society by fostering its core values and helping recognise the invaluable work of women in a previously male-dominated world.”