Prátaí ar maidin, prátaí um nóin
Agus dá n-éireoinn san oíche, prátaí a gheobhainn
Potatoes in the morning, potatoes at noon
And if we get up in the night, it’s potatoes we’ll getOld Irish saying – so says my Da and he should know
If the notion of having potatoes morning, noon and night appeals, then Lissadell House in Co. Sligo is the place to be. The house and its residents may have been the stuff of poetry for WB Yeats in his day, but it was potatoes that had me treading, perhaps not quite so softly, in the footsteps of the bard last weekend. For Lissadell is now home to Dave Langford’s collection of heritage potatoes, around 180 varieties worth, and I spent part of last weekend being taken on a private tour of the gardens there, along with MGH, my agent on the ground in the North West.
Due to an unfortunate dispute over rights-of-way through the property, the gardens at Lissadell are not open to the public this year, which is a real pity, because they’re well worth seeing. Lucky for me, though, that Dave Langford himself, whom I met earlier this year at the Organic Centre’s Potato Day, had offered to show me around. Dave, along with Dermot Carey, head gardener at Lissadell, took us on a turn around the substantial Victorian walled kitchen garden, home to the spud collection, and to a host of other fruit and vegetables. We also got to see the polytunnels and areas where they do commercial organic growing, with the supply going mainly to local restaurants.
Dave is indeed a fount of knowledge on all things potato and regaled us with spud-lore as we toured about. I have, as a result, added several new potato factoids to my top pocket, to be drawn upon whenever I feel a potato anorak moment coming on.
I now know, for example, that a roguer is someone specially trained to scour commercially planted potato fields, spotting potato plants of the wrong variety (the so-called rogues) or plants diseased by, among other things, the dreaded blackleg. I can intrigue listeners with stories of the Black Bog, a dark stemmed and dark skinned spud that was often grown in mental institutions (though why it was favoured by mental institutions is, umm, a little unclear). When it comes to potato league tables, I will reference the Bambino, which Dave declared hands-down the worst potato he’s ever eaten, worse than the Lumper variety of famine times (which, he says, are actually not that bad to eat if the growing season has been dry, but if it’s been wet, then steer clear).
Oh my, but I’ll be popular. At least when it comes to table quizzes, that is.
Yes, not only did Dave display his in-depth knowledge of each and every one of the heritage varieties in his collection, he also told us that he is breeding some varieties of his own and will be finding out in a few weeks time if any of them are good for eating. In the coming years at Lissadell, they hope to set up a special display of Irish-bred spuds, no doubt with some of Dave’s among them. All in all, it was a fascinating visit, which put my own little potato collection just ever so slightly in the shade!
By the by, as you’re reading this, I’ll be swapping a walk around Lissadell for a walk along part of the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. What that means is that, for the coming week, I’ll be doing a lot of not-very-fancy footwork along the Spanish highways and by-ways, and not a lot of anything on the super highways of the internet. You can expect me back next Sunday.