JOHN CORBETT with a selection of memories of life in the Irish countryside
April was a bright and busy month in the country. Longer days enabled us to spend more time out of doors, but the downside for us was the hard work in the potato and tillage fields and escape was unlikely unless we were sick or had a cast-iron alibi.
At present, large amounts of root crops are planted via machinery but things were totally different in the forties and fifties. Operations depended almost entirely on horses, ploughs and plenty of elbow grease from humans.
A huge commitment from all able bodied members of the family was essential if crop planting was to be a success.
Planting, of course, was on a much smaller scale than is the case at present. Farmers were happy to sow around an acre of potatoes – enough to feed them, their families and their stock. A few acres of grain crops – and that was the tillage total for the people in our village.
GETTING READY TO SOW SPUDS
Firstly, the tubers had to be sliced and it was important that each section of the potato contained an ‘eye’; otherwise no new seed would grow. Farmers that had small potatoes could bypass slit–cutting by just planting the potatoes as they were.
Cutting slits was a tedious process, most of which was done by adults, although sometimes, unwilling recruits like ourselves, were drafted in to do the job.
Our parents had to supervise us carefully because of course dividing the potatoes properly wasn’t among our chief concerns. Our minds were preoccupied with other matters such as games, reading or listening to the radio. There weren’t any portable receivers then so listening to the wireless was an indoor affair.
Turning up the volume in order to tune in outside wasn’t an option so the only alternative was to work in silence, while our parents conversed about crops and other topics that held little appeal for us.
Many adults used chairs to sit beside the pits as they worked on the slits. When it was fine, most grown-ups appeared to be content as they carried on with the task and as the work progressed, our sense of self-pity eventually evaporated and we came to realise that perhaps there were worse things in life that preparing potatoes for planting.