As a young boy in Ontario I spent much of my spring and summer tending our 
farms crop of Potatoes .In 1974 I kept myself  whole and hard by working potato 
farms in the highlands of Scotland. Even then with help of modern equipment 
potatoes are a labour intensive crop. In those days the mechanical potato 
pickers so common today were only just being brought in. Getting  the potatoes 
planted hilled and clean was a chore especially as it always needed to be done 
when other crops needed attention. That however was nothing compared to the 
potato picking. Each field was filled with dozens of families anxious to try 
and make a little money on the side by picking potatoes. The best pickers were 
young children eight years or younger. They did not have to bend so far as 
their mom's and dad an often worked on their hands and knees. They started 
before first light in the cold misty Scottish fall morning. Dirt was a way of 
life for those families and little ones but I was amazed at how hard they 
worked rain or shine (little shine lots of rain) and how tough they were. Each 
family was given a plot to pick and bag, pence paid for by the bag or basket. 
At mid day we sat under the stone fence rows lines of families eating bread, 
cheese and cold mutton wrapped in newspaper the children maybe some jam for 
desert and the adults some Shandy to drink if you could afford it. At the end 
of the day families would pick a pot of potatoes to take home with them for 
their supper unless the overseers caught them and if he did they would have 
their potatoes dumped from their pots unto passing wagons and their pots thrown 
against the fence row. When dark came you were glad it had come to hide you and 
you were glad there was no lights that you might have been compelled to work 
under.  Your back ached and your hands hurt soil mixed with blood made band 
aids and plaster for your skinned knuckles and bleeding fingers.. Many Irish 
families made their way to Scotland to work the potato and neep fields they 
were distrusted and looked down on as they took jobs away from Scottish 
families. They worked for less and worked faster and harder then even the 
strong Scottish workers were able to do. Hardship and the "troubles" at home in 
Ireland drove them to get work any were they could and landowners loved to hire 
them and abuse them. Their children worked with them and school took  hiatus 
until latter in the fall when all the harvest were in. This was not cruel 
unusual behavior it was a mater of survival for a resilient people. I nor they 
wore rose coloured glasses. It is hard to tell the spoiled potatoes with them 
on and if you pick spoiled potatoes you were docked pay. I don't say any of 
this to be rude it is just the way it was for the people of Scotland and 
Ireland. I talked to them and asked many questions about their history and how 
they view themselves and  I grew to honour and respect them deeply. It is hard 
for us to understand them and their circumstances if we have not live as they 


Ron McCoy

On 2018-10-26 12:18 PM, Elwyn Soutter via CoTyroneList wrote:

I take your point about the Lieutenant’s likely background but there are plenty 
of other contemporaneous descriptions of life in Ireland in the mid 1800s, some 
written by respected Irish born people that tend to support his account of 
rural life.

The image of spending 12 hours planting potatoes is suitably graphic but, the 
time spent planting potatoes each year wasn’t excessive. One of the many great 
aspects of potatoes is they are a low maintenance crop. They are easy to plant, 
grow particularly well in most Irish soil (save if blighted of course) and need 
very little attention. You stick them in and then forget about them. You don’t 
need to spend much time on them at all. You also get more spuds to the acre 
than nearly any other crop and so if land is in short supply, and you have a 
large family – as was often the case then – they are ideal. That then left the 
labourer free to undertake other work, if there was any.  The ease with which 
potatoes grew, was one of the reasons why people were so reluctant to grow 
anything else, even when faced with possible blight.


From: peter mcdonald via CoTyroneList 
To: cotyronelist@cotyroneireland.com<mailto:cotyronelist@cotyroneireland.com>
Cc: peter mcdonald <pfm22...@gmail.com><mailto:pfm22...@gmail.com>
Sent: Friday, 26 October 2018, 16:51
Subject: [CoTyroneMailingList] A few thoughts on the Lt. Stother account

> In the British army of the time, commissions, such as that of Lieutenant, 
> were acquired through purchase. The cheapest lieutenancy, in an infantry 
> regiment, cost seven hundred pounds. Access to that sort of money, roughly 
> equivalent to fifty-eight thousand pounds sterling today, places the 
> lieutenant in a social class unlikely to have had much contact with people 
> like our peasant ancestors. No wonder he was shocked.
Across Europe, subsistence farmers have shared their accommodation with their 
animals as a matter of course, partly to benefit from the heat generated by the 
beasts in winter. In parts of France, where I live, earthen floors and 
wandering livestock are still to be found. Anyone passing by many farms 
anywhere today would notice defunct machinery rusting away in farmyard or 
behind apparently ramshackle buildings. Farming, other than of the 
massive-scale, highly mechanised industrial variety, tends to be a messy 
No doubt Tyrone then, as Tyrone today, had its share of ne'erdo wells, but it’s 
not easy to get up to mischief when you have just spent up to twelve hours 
planting the potatoes that you and your family will depend on through the 
winter, or cutting turf so you don’t die of cold.
We should not view our ancestors through rose-tinted glasses, but it is worth 
bearing in mind that the good lieutenant had his own prism when looking at a 
people who shared neither his background, nor his religious beliefs, nor yet, 
in many cases, his first language. He would have been viewed as the 
representative of an army of occupation by many in the Catholic population.
I hope this contributes usefully to the conversation around this account.

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