Bord Bia Potato Champion 2013, David Curran, from Fethard, Co. Tipperary (centre) with John Donohue, Tullamore Show Horticulture Organiser (left) and Lorcan Bourke of Bord Bia (right)
As far as one day agricultural events go in Ireland, the Tullamore Show, which had a hefty 61,000 visitors yesterday, is about as big as it gets. It’s host to a bewildering array of farming demonstrations and competitions, from sheep shearing to show jumping, and there was plenty to interest your resident potato anorak, from Bord Bia’s All Ireland Potato Championships (a growers’ competition, where potatoes are judged according to interior and exterior appearance – kind of like the lovely girls’ competition, except for spuds) to the mammoth potato sack race organised by Sam’s Potatoes in advance of National Potato Day on August 23rd (which, while it didn’t break any world records for numbers competing, was still a great deal of fun).
Sam’s Potatoes sack race
But though they may have come to the Tullamore Show in their thousands, one of the main things of interest for me turned out to be much more of a minority concern, as I discovered when I fell into conversation with Tom Egan, chairman of the Loy Association of Ireland, about the revival of interest in the craft of loy digging.
I would hazard a guess – for those in Ireland and the UK at any rate – that there’s hardly a man, woman or child who has not, at some time, been touched by the life’s work of one John Clarke. Certainly, if you’ve ever savoured a bag of fat, golden, creamy-on-the-inside, vinegared-on-the-outside chip-shop chips, what you’ve eaten owes a certain debt to this unassuming man of Antrim.
To say that Mr. Clarke (1889-1980) was a potato breeder of note is somewhat of a understatement. Though he left school at the age of 12 and had no formal scientific or horticultural training, he was responsible for the development of 33 certified varieties of potato, most of which bear the prefix Ulster, and some of which were subsequently cross-bred to produce varieties very familiar to us: Maris Piper, long the potato of choice for the chipper, is a second generation (or F2) descendant of a John Clarke variety, Ulster Knight, and most of you will have eaten Maris Pipers, even if, at the time, their name was a mite less important than their role as a welcome source of soakage.
John Clarke, Potato Wizard by Maurice McHenry
It’s been a long time coming, but I figure that the time is ripe to say it loud and say it proud: my name is Spud and I am a spud-a-holic (now, hands up all who are in any way surprised by this news – anyone? no, didn’t think so…).
At any rate, there can be precious few other reasons to explain why, last Wednesday, I found myself at the National Potato Conference. Yes, such a thing exists and I was there.
Mr Tayto was there too:
small wonder, as around 10% of the Irish potato
crop is used to make Tayto and other crisps in the
Largo Foods range