WATCH: John Hayes to speak at rebuilding rural Ireland conference

Thurles conference will seek inspiration from the world of sport

Donal O'Regan


Donal O'Regan


Limerick great John Hayes to speak at rebuilding rural Ireland conference

Speaker: John Hayes

A CAST of rural champions, including Limerick’s famed front row John Hayes, has been confirmed for a Thurles conference that will seek inspiration from the world of sport in the bid to rejuvenate ailing parts of rural Ireland.

With Chairman of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) Pat Spillane already announced for the Building Rural Community – Lessons from Sport conference at MIC, St Patrick’s Campus, Thurles on Wednesday, March 29, the final line up has now been announced.

The conference has been organised by the Head of the Institute for Pastoral Studies at MIC, Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon, Patrickswell, to advance the conversation around how to regenerate rural Ireland.

While the theme of the conference is around taking lessons from sport, which currently plays a glue-like role in rural Ireland, but the conversation on the night will embrace broad issues affecting rural areas and trying to reimagine ways to revitalise them. 

And who better than a man synonymous with rural Ireland and, indeed, farming - rugby legend John Hayes. He will talk about efforts in rural Limerick, in the two areas he is synonymous with, Bruff, where the club he played for is a bedrock of the local community, and Cappamore, where he is from and a small town noted for its annual agricultural show.

Another speaker is Anna May McHugh, managing director of the National Ploughing Championships, the biggest outdoor event of any kind in Europe and one of the largest agricultural shows in in the world. 

One of rural Ireland’s greatest heroes, Anna May will talk to a theme of A pleasant and friendly place to meet and do business - the original mission statement for the ploughing championships when it was formed in 1931.

Also confirmed for the line-up is Tipperary’s All-Ireland winning manager Michael Ryan.  A proud advocate of rural Ireland, Ryan is not being asked to deliver insights into what it took to claim last year’s McCarthy Cup but rather to discuss his native Upperchurch, a picturesque village situated ten miles from Thurles in the Slieve Felim Hills. 

Despite being a heavily depopulated area, Upperchurch has fought back brilliantly and, largely through its local development association, has tapped into the natural beauty of the area and developed a strong sports/leisure tourism piece product around hill walking.

The final speaker confirmed for the night has proven that innovation knows no boundaries by developing two successful sports related businesses in Scarriff, Co. Clare, another pocket badly affected by rural decline. 

Padraig Giblin gave up a steady job with the ESB in the late 1990s to establish the first retractable nets business for sports pitches in Ireland and has since spread his enterprise into new sectors, to an extent that today his netting systems are installed as far afield as in the US to cover tobacco plantations. 

Since then he has gone on to develop a second sports based business in Scarriff, the Derg Isle team building, personal development and survival training centre which hosts groups from schools and corporates right up to intercounty GAA teams. His address is entitled ‘Mining the Net’. 

Fr Fitzgibbon said: “The challenges to rural Ireland are really serious and building a sense of community is key. We need to think smarter and be more innovative going forward if we are to revitalize badly hit areas of rural Ireland. To that end, there are many lessons to be learned from sport and we have a cast of rural champions assembled for the event. We are getting great feedback and interest already so would urge people to book their tickets early to avoid disappointment.

“We certainly won’t want for inspiration on the night. The speakers have all walked the walk and, no doubt, will bring many great learnings to the table.”

Interest in the event is already strong, with tickets, which cost just €10 and can be booked at or by contacting St. Patrick’s Campus at 0504-21201, selling quickly.  

The event commences at 7p.m. and concludes at 9:30p.m.