The Daily Spud

...there's both eatin' and drinkin' in it

Category: History (page 1 of 5)

The Big Dig

Big Dig Poster

So here’s the thing: if you find yourself in the vicinity of Strokestown, Co. Roscommon this coming Sunday and fancy getting some dirt under your fingernails, as well as the chance to participate – by way of digging potato beds – in an ongoing project which explores the very particular place that the spud occupies in our culture, then you should make your way to the Irish Famine Museum at Strokestown Park, where Deirdre O’Mahony will lead participants in making an “X” shaped lazy-bed on the Church Lawn at Strokestown House.

This is just one of many initiatives being undertaken by Deirdre – artist, academic and lecturer at the Centre for Creative Arts, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology – as part of her ongoing SPUD project, which has featured collaborations between farmers, artists and art agencies.

She envisions the creation of the lazy-beds at Strokestown as a collaborative, temporary famine memorial, an X-shaped bed planted with potatoes – blight resistant Sarpos, mind, not Famine-era Lumpers – creating a space in which to publicly think through present day aspects of the Famine’s legacy. The event on Sunday may also be an opportunity for attendees to see old-school sod-turning skills, as Deirdre tells me that some members of the Loy association of Ireland, who foster the tradition of using the loy – an old style, narrow spade with a single footrest – will be there.

Proceedings will start at 10 am on Sunday 29th. If you’d like to participate – and all are most welcome – then drop an email to the project curator Linda Shevlin ([email protected]).

You dig?

Spudless Sunday

Those who have read this blog over the years will know that I have written about the Dave Langford/Dermot Carey heritage potato collection many times.

Their 225+ varieties of potato, including many rare, old varieties of Irish interest which, for many years, they have displayed and spoken about at events countrywide, have made for a wonderful educational resource, a living history and an important part of our food heritage.

This past weekend I learned of an incredibly severe blow to the collection, a too-harsh lesson in the fragility of preserving old and rare varieties and of not better supporting the people who do that important work for us. While all is not entirely lost, there is much that is, and a challenge has been set for those who really believe that such things are worth preserving.

For the past six years, mid-March has been writ large in my calendar. Not, as you might imagine, because of St. Patrick’s Day in all of its greenery but rather, because it is at or around this time of year that the Organic Centre in Rossinver, Co. Leitrim, hosts its annual Potato Day.

Potato Day Sign

It’s an event presided over by Hans Wieland, and a time for people to stock up on seeds for the coming season, to get advice from expert growers, and to hear talks on subjects of interest to the gardener of potatoes, be it on the importance of soil (the subject of an excellent presentation given this year by Trevor Sargent) or on GM or blight resistant spuds, or even a spin through the latest in spud developments from around the world (which was my contribution to this year’s event).

And ever-present, every year, has been a diverse display of potatoes – the rare, old and unusual spud collection that has been amassed, maintained and nurtured over a great many years by Dave Langford, and ably assisted in that task for the past 8 or 9 years by master vegetable grower Dermot Carey.

potato display

From my first Potato Day excursion in 2009:
what was to become the familiar sight of varieties from the Langford/Carey collection on display

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Spud Sunday: 50 Ways To Say Potato

So, having spent the last few (admittedly sporadic) posts waxing lyrical on the spuds of Prince Edward Island – a subject with which, I must admit, I’m not quite done yet – it has finally come time to shift focus closer to home – namely to Stradbally in Co. Laois, which plays host to the Electric Picnic this weekend.

electric picnic '14

Though music may be the big draw for the festival, wander down to the Mindfield area and you’ll find the Theatre of Food, with a diverse program of talks, demos, tastes and debates. And – for those Picnic enthusiasts who actually manage to arrive and get set up by that time – you can catch me (yes, me) opening the weekend’s Theatre of Food proceedings on Friday 29th at 4.30pm with my own little Theatre of Spud, a talk MC’ed by food writer Aoife Carrigy.

Theatre of Food

I’ll be looking at the place – or places, even – that the potato occupies in Irish food culture, from your Mammy’s boiled spuds, to the devotion that inspires a collection of 200+ heritage varieties of potato, to the all important bread and butter layering of a crisp sandwich. I’ll also be discussing just how many ways we Irish have of describing our potatoes (of which more below).

thank potato url

When I’m done with that, I’ll be wandering off to check out what the Dublin Urban Farm crew are doing with their roving Thank Potato exhibition in the Picnic’s Global Green area. Back in the Theatre of Food, on Sunday 31st at 12.30pm, I’ll be on stage again, in the knowledgeable – to say nothing of opinionated – company of Ernie Whalley, Leslie Williams and Mei Chin, participating in what should be a tummy rumbling discussion on Food in Literature, moderated by Caroline Byrne.

It is, apparently, a matter of some debate as to whether Eskimo languages really have an unusually large number of words for snow, but it is an oft-quoted example when discussing how a language may reflect the environment in which it has developed. We use language to describe what surrounds and affects us, so it seems only natural that the ways in which a language is used to describe a given entity can tell us something of its cultural significance. So it is, I think, with the Irish language and potatoes.
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