Belfast Telegraph

Votes push hits ploughing showpiece

Presidential hopefuls have been out in force at Ireland's social event of the year as they took their campaign trail into the heart of the country.

More than 70,000 people visited the first day of the National Ploughing Championships, which spanned 700 acres across Athy, Co Kildare.

Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell, Labour's Michael D Higgins, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Independent candidates Sean Gallagher and Mary Davis canvassed hundreds of potential voters as they moved through spectators.

"He's so honest, and pleasant and amicable," said one Mitchell supporter. "There's no PR spin."

But it was President Mary McAleese who stole the heart of the crowd, getting several hugs from well-wishers and even a packet of crisps from admirer Mark Moran.

Ms McAleese paid tribute to the first lady of the National Ploughing Association, managing director Anna May McHugh, who has been involved with the championship for 50 of its 80 years.

"She's like a mother hen watching over her chicks," said the President. "Tireless, inspirational and amazing."

As the national anthem played, squeals of teenagers dangling upside down on amusement rides could be heard in the distance.

Among the thousands of faces in the crowd as the President gave her speech was newest candidate Mr McGuinness - who was possibly wondering if he will be the one to officially open the championship in New Ross, Co Wexford, in 2012.

"It's fantastic to be down here, a great experience and a great national event attended by people from north, south, east and west," he said.

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