Antrim farmer revives Irish famine potato

By Nuala McCann
BBC News

image captionMichael McKillop with the Irish Lumper potatoes

A variety of potato at the heart of the Irish famine is making a return to cooking pots after almost 170 years.

The Irish Lumper potato has been cultivated once more by County Antrim farmer Michael McKillop who has a keen interest in history.

The Lumper was popular in the 19th century because it grew happily in very poor soil. So it became very popular with the farmers of Munster and Connacht. But then came the blight.

The rest is history.

When the crop failed, the result for Ireland's poor, who depended so much upon it, was disastrous.

It is believed that about one million people in Ireland died in the 1840s after the failure of the potato crop.

Hundreds of thousands of others emigrated during the disaster.

The potato variety Lumper itself all but died out in Ireland, but about six years ago, Mr McKillop who runs Glens of Antrim Potatoes in Cushendall, decided he would like to revive it.

"I am interested in some of the older varieties of potatoes. I had heard about the Lumper and read in books that it was soapy and tasted bad. But I wanted to taste it to see for myself," he said.

"When I was at a show in County Down, a man gave me one and I planted it in the garden, From that one, I grew 28 wee potatoes and I thought they tasted lovely, so I grew them again."

The farmer decided that he would grow them commercially.

Last summer, he travelled to the Delicious Ireland show at Selfridges in London with his Lumper - and people liked it.

This year, he has produced enough potatoes to put on the supermarket shelves for two weeks in March. They will be on sale in Marks & Spencer in the run-up to St Patrick's Day on 17 March.

"We wanted to do something different and this is it," he said.

Despite its reputation and the black memories associated with it, this is a potato that has turned to good.

Michael McKillop recommends steaming it with the skin on and roasting or frying it.

It tastes of other times, a potato with its roots firmly in Irish history.

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