The prospect of publicly opposing the 23-year-old campaign by Northern Ireland paramilitaries was then the last thing on her mind. But news of the Warrington bombing prompted a decision that turned her north Dublin suburban home into an international press centre.
Before calling an Irish radio phone-in programme on Monday with the idea for a peace rally, she had already organised a hall in Trinity College. 'It was one of those occasions when she gets something into her head and just goes off like a train,' according to her husband Arthur, 44, who handles the accounts for a firm of solicitors.
Mrs McHugh, 37, said: 'When I heard about the bombing I thought what would I do if Emma or Charles (her children) were killed in that manner. It just does not bear thinking about.' She told the meeting that parties 'in all three jurisdictions' had to be forced by popular pressure into a genuine peace initiative. 'For too long we've listened to platitudes. Peace in Northern Ireland calls for action not aspirations.'
Her husband said yesterday: 'She is not getting at politicians, but at the same time she does believe they have a case to answer.'
Mrs McHugh took part in protests against the IRA that developed after the 1987 Enniskillen bombing in which her fellow speaker on Wednesday, Senator Gordon Wilson, lost his daughter, Marie. A Roman Catholic, she also helped to set up a Peace and Justice Group in her parish, with help from people in other religious denominations.
She trained in child care at a Dublin college, and has worked in Dublin creches over the last 15 years, initially in the deprived Northside Darndale area.
Mrs McHugh emphasises the distinction between a peace movement and a political party. She has insisted the embryonic Irish movement must remain non-political, ecumenical and not affiliated to any organisation. Like Gordon Wilson, she has expressed a willingness to make appeals for an end to violence directly to paramilitaries.
A colleague helping her to organise tomorrow's peace demonstration in O'Connell Street, Dublin, said friends were 'stunned' at her decision to step into the spotlight.
'She is a fairly quiet person, but has always been part of the party - never one to go home early on a night out. But she is not an extrovert. Maybe that is why she is coming across as so sincere.'Reuse content