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
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