possibilities regarding the introduction of the potato
to Ireland include one which looks to the ships of the
dispersed Spanish Armada all down the West coast of Ireland.
Potatoes may well have been carried as part of the cooks'
stores by the ships and later found on the shore by the
people of Kerry and Cork who planted them.
At first in Ireland there were doubts as to the value
of the potato as a food. Some said that the root was not
for eating because it was not mentioned in the Bible;
others said that it caused leprosy and encouraged flatulence.
Others however, notably doctors, claimed that the potato
could heal just about everything and prescribed it where
and when they had the slightest chance.
Eventually, it was the potato itself that won universal
acceptance. It was a food, a good food at that, so it
flourished and brought many customs into being. It became
the usual practice to plant potatoes on Good Friday.
Galway, it is considered bad luck to attempt to plant
potatoes on a Cross Day, that is on any fourth day following
Christmas. In Kerry, a piece of cypress was stuck into
the ridge on planting day and, on harvesting, a branch
of the same wood was burnt. On the Eve of St. John, when
the midsummer fires were lit, a burning faggot was thrown
into the potato plot for luck to the crop. Garland Sunday,
the last in July was, in Galway, the day on which the
first digging was permitted. In Cork, it was thought that
some potatoes, however few, should be dug up on the 29th
June. In Mayo, time was when the end of the potato harvest
was always celebrated by a feast. And in Tipperary, when
new potatoes first appeared on the table, it was usual
for one to say to another. 'May we all be alive and happy
this time twelve months.'
It was not long before the bulk of the Irish people were
growing potatoes, and more and more did they come to rely
on it as a staple food. By the end of the sixteenth century
much of Ireland had been laid waste by the harrying and
burning of homesteads of crops and of cattle under Mountjoy,
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The people as a result were
famished; to sow their usual crops was to invite their
destruction. But, in the potato, the harassed grower had
to his hand a food which was easy to prepare; it would
feed himself, his household and his livestock, and it
could be cultivated and stored in a manner that escaped
detection. As the years passed into the 18th and 19th
centuries, the Irish poor found themselves more and more
dependent on the potato. Thus, as 1845 drew nearer, there
was nothing to relieve the sombre picture of poverty and