Digging for Ireland


This time of year many of us in Ireland long to get out into gardens and grow things. With COVID going on it's even more of a need for those lucky enough to have somewhere to dig in isolation. We weed, we clear, we dig, we prep flower and vegetable beds. Digging is part of the Irish psyche. Seen on our road trips across the west of Ireland (oh how me miss those), potato drills, as the beds are called, are often dotted around the hillsides, their ripples visible in the evening sun. Centuries ago, they were potato harvests. We dug for turf, we dug for potatoes. We dug vegetable gardens to grow for the kitchens during and after the wars. We dug for Ireland! Small rural holdings over the centuries were productive, supplying markets, the local big houses and villages and towns further afield. Markets were bustling centres of trade for foods, yarns and textiles such as Irish linen and tweeds. Oh, to be able to go back and see it first hand.

Here's a favourite poem by the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney:



Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Featured products

Suggested articles