“Matthew Sumner liked the five-hour walk around the island best of all: the danger of ‘Beware of Cliff Edges’ signs that warned of falling to the rocky inlet below, the steep climb up Knockmore mountain, the view of Inisturk and Inisbofin islands from the peak, the small lakes, the potato lazybeds, and the Abbey Church.”-Prologue excerpt from “Death on Clare Island” by Martha Geaney
Clare Island’s Circuit Walks
One glorious summer morning, I set out from French Hill cottage to Roonagh Quay to catch Captain O’Malley’s ferry to Clare Island. Clare Island is a beautiful part of County Mayo – guarding the entrance to the mouth of Clew Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.
Unlike Matthew Sumner, I chose one of the shorter circuit walks that took me as far as the Clare Island Lighthouse, the Abbey Church, and past the famine potato beds.
Potato Lazy Beds dating to the 1800s
Along the walk, I observed the ridges where, the potato lazy beds, which date back to the Great Irish Potato Famine, were set. During the famine, Clare Island lost half their population due to death and emigration.
The lazy bed method entails planting seed potation within a few inches of the soil top and no more than 12 inches apart. On Clare Island, the planted seed potatoes were covered in seaweed until harvest time. Prior to the famine, the potato crops were sufficient, along with fish, and other whole foods like eggs, milk, and oatmeal to maintain the population. But during the Great Irish Potato Famine, Clare Island lost half of its population to death or emigration. The potato ridges remain today as a reminder of great tragedy amidst great beauty.
Lazy Beds Origin
Contrary to the connotation associated with “lazy”, the lazy bed approach allows for growing in areas where space is limited and for easy harvesting. The “lazy bed” term arose in Ireland among some famers who considered this method of farming “lazy”.
Smart Potato Farming
Nowadays, lazy bed potato farming is considered a smart method of utilizing space and saving time. And, if seaweed isn’t available, the beds are covered with hay/straw mulch.
And so, we’ve come full circle.
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