The National Ploughing Championships have captured the hearts and imaginations of the nation, particularly in recent years. Staged in the early Autumn, the event has grown from a mere 40 entries at the 1931 inaugural competition to become Europe’s largest outdoor exhibition and trade show. Held over three days, it has long ceased to be solely an agricultural event, mirroring the State Fairs of the US. Attracting annual crowds of almost 300,000, two-thirds of whom are not involved in agriculture, the championships are a national phenomenon.
Presiding over the growth and success of the event is Anna May McHugh, the tireless Laois native, who has worked with the National Ploughing Association (NPA) for 67 years, almost 50 of which have been at the helm. Now 84 and, up until recently, the only woman in a man’s world, this Managing Director shows no sign of retiring from the organisation, as she embarks on putting together yet another annual event. To many she is a national treasure. But what does it take to organise an event of this scale? What is the personal toll on those involved? And, at a time when there are fewer farmers than ever in the fields and farm, incomes are at an all time low, what is the significance of the event to those who participate in and attend the National Ploughing Championships?
Anna May – Banríon An Plough is a one-hour observational documentary following Anna May over the course of four months, in the build up and staging of the eventful 2018 National Ploughing Championships in Screggan, Offaly. Through Anna May we get an insight into the current event, as well as her deep historical knowledge, going back to the 1940s. Incorporating footage from this year’s ill-fated championships, along with archive footage from previous decades, this is a compelling account of what the championship organisers had to do when faced with the devastating winds of Storm Ali. For only the second time in its 87 year history, the event was forced to close its doors to the public.
Her story, in her words, the documentary is an intimate insight in to Anna May’s life, and that of her family, as it finds what continues to push her to the limit to make this profitable event better, year on year. With no intention of retiring just yet, she has become as much a part of the event as the ploughing itself.
Anna May; Banríon An Plough is produced by Power Pictures Ltd and will be broadcast on Christmas Day at 9:25pm on TG4.