Thursday, 12 October 2017

Queen of the Ploughing: My Story, by Anna May McHugh (2017)

'The embodiment of the spirit of rural Ireland'
Anna May McHugh's name is synonymous with 'the Ploughing' - the annual Championships of the National Ploughing Association. The event is the biggest outdoor agricultural show in Europe and Anna May is the driving force behind its spectacular growth.
Anna May now tells her story. Her description of growing up as part of a large family in rural County Laois is an evocative and affectionate account of an Ireland that is now gone. But in her account of how she went from being a secretary of the Ploughing Association, her first job, to becoming - to her own amazement - its managing director twenty years later is a story of leadership and people skills that are very much of the twenty-first century. Anna May was truly ahead of her time.
Still living in County Laois, close to where she grew up, and now in her eighties, Anna May still runs the multi-million euro operation from her home, alongside her daughter, Anna Marie.
Queen of the Ploughing is a captivating read, full of warmth, lively stories and Anna May's sharp observations. And it's not just about Anna May's life, but is also a celebration of the best of Irish life over eight decades.

I was stunned by how much I enjoyed reading Anna May's story as I have practically no interest and no experience in farming or agriculture. I didn't realise the Ploughing Championships were so significant! But once I started reading I couldn't put it down.

I am hugely interested in history and so it was with delight that on reading the first chapter I was hooked. It was also nice to read about twentieth century Ireland from a woman's perspective.
Anna May is a remarkable woman who managed to carve out a very successful career for herself in a male dominated industry and in a time when Ireland was very much a patriarchal society. She certainly was ahead of her time and it just goes to show how much people respected and admired her. 

In her book, Anna May fondly remembers her parents and she has some lovely stories about them and her childhood in general. She also explains how she met her husband. Anna May was very active in various local groups and she talks about the importance of community groups, like the GAA and ICA, and social gatherings in general for people in rural Ireland to meet and socialise. 

Anna May talks about the people she worked with and met during her career. There are photographs of the people she worked with as well as family photos. These pictures add a nice, personal touch and I felt like I was chatting to an old friend as I read through the book.

This was a lovely, warm and light read from a lady who has contributed an awful lot to Irish life and culture over the past sixty years.

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