Derrynane recovers reputation
for the earliest spuds in Ireland

It is more than 50 years since Caherdaniel man Mick O'Connor made national headlines as he beat the country's early potato producers in the race to be first with their produce on the Dublin market.

His first venture into the Dublin market was in 1948 when he got £32 per hundredweight for the potatoes he cultivated on his tiny hillside farm overlooking Derrynane Bay.

"That was a lot more than the five shilling I was getting then for an eight-stone bag of Kerr Pinks around Caherdaniel," said Mick as he recalled the time (1961) when he was chosen along with four other Irish farmers to star in a film about life on the land.

Leading the Way was the name of the Esso sponsored film and Mick was chosen because of his successful transition from manual to mechanised work on a farm of eight arable acres.

The film celebrated advances in farm mechanisation and the enrichment of life on the land at a time when Mick O'Connor thought he was doing exceptionally well to be earning £14 a week from his little farm.

Mick used no more than a spade and a scooter as his principal aides when he began potato production in the 'forties.

He shaped his ridges with the spade and he brought the potatoes by scooter to Cahersiveen to catch the train for Dublin.

"I was an auxiliary postman in those days and a scooter went with the job," Mick recalled.
"I was needed for only four hours a day so I was able to work the land in my spare time.

"I made a crate to carry a hundredweight of spuds and fitted it to the scooter and during the harvesting season I often drove the 20 miles to Cahersiveen to catch the train.

Mick, who is now a sprightly 84 and still producing an early potato crop, moved into mechanisation by accident.

"John O'Grady from Caherdaniel had sent away for a catalogue of a tractor mower," Mick recalled.
"John really had no interest in it so he showed it to me on my round with the post. "The machine was on sale at the firm of McLysaght and Fahy of Cork and I bought it for £100.

"The days were not long enough for me that year as I cut hay for myself and for neighbours and friends from Caherdaniel back to Castlecove.

"I was getting paid one pound per acre and by the time the harvest was over I had paid off the £100 and had half as much again left over.

"But I had worked the machine so hard that year that I decided to trade up and bought a machine which could plough, harrow, rotovate, roll the land and cut hay.

"It helped me and my wife, Mary, to feed and educate six children from our eight acres."

But it was not on potatoes alone that he did that. He kept a few suckler cows and at times was rearing 20 to 30 calves.

He was also encouraged by the local PP, Fr Gerard Dillon, to become involved in a daffodil growing project undertaken by the County Committee of Agriculture.

Fr Dillon was a brother of the then secretary of the Committee, John Dillon of Abbeydorney. "A lorry came all the way from Holland with the bulbs and I set a quarter acre of them,"said Mick. "I also grew strawberries.

"I sold these in Waterville and Parknasilla but the daffodils I sent to the Dublin market.

"The whole family became involved in the harvesting and there was many a time I could hardly get into the house with all the daffodils laid out on the floor, ready for dispatch to Dublin in the morning."

After ten or twelve years the potato prices in Dublin dropped and Mick turned his sights to a local market that was becoming buoyant with increasing numbers of visitors.

Nowadays Mick sets enough spuds to look after the needs of his house while son John has taken over the small farm and continues to grow potatoes for the local market.

"I have geared my crop to mature for the June holiday weekend," said John.

"My father was able to have potatoes on the Dublin market by mid April but we seem to have more frost in April more now than before.

"That sets us back a bit but the market is still eagerly waiting for the new potatoes whenever they arrive

John has taken over where his father left off -leading the way. And one of these days he'll have help with the farm. He recently became engaged to Kay Wadham from Kent. That could mean more hands come harvest time A case of history repeating it self.

Courtesy of Seamus Mc Conville
and The Kerryman