The tale of a potato “genius” formed the inspiration for a novel celebration at the weekend.
The Northern Ireland Potato Festival saw events held from Friday to yesterday, all centred around the staple Ulster crop.
Maurice McHenry, 69 and from Ballintoy, organised the festival, which included food stands, crafts, and lectures on tubers.
He said the whole enterprise was inspired by an Ulster farmer named John Clarke, the creator of no less than 33 different strains of potato.
Born in 1889, this farming prodigy was feted during his lifetime but passed away in 1980 and his name has faded from memory, according to Mr McHenry.
“He lived at the Giant’s Causeway, and in April this year a plaque was unveiled to him,” he said.
“He was a forgotten hero, you might say. He was quite a man. He left school at age 12, was orphaned at the age of eight or nine – he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth.”
Despite being a quiet man, not given to publicity, in the course of his life he was awarded accolades including an OBE and honorary degrees.
Mr McHenry, who penned a book about the farmer called ‘John Clarke: A Potato Wizard’ said: “He was a genius, but had been forgotten about.”
To put his achievements in context, Mr McHenry said to create just one new variety could take around 10 years.
Among the varieties produced by his perseverance were Dundrod, Dunluce, and Ulster Sceptre.
In tribute, some events were at his old farm beside the Causeway, called Innisfree.
Friday had seen a trip by about 40 participants to a modern-day potato farm and processing facility, but the main day was Saturday when marquees and demonstration stalls were set up at Innisfree Farm – and more than 80 varieties of potato put on display.
This was followed by a food and craft exhibition yesterday around Ballycastle’s Rathlin ferry terminal.
The cash to put on the festival came from Moyle District Council, the National Trust, and the potato industry itself.
In years gone by there had been a similar festival in Crawfordsburn. This latest one is basically an attempt to resurrect that, he said.
Speaking on Friday, Mr McHenry said he had expected between 1,000 to 2,000 over the course of the weekend.
And as the events drew to a close yesterday Sandra Hunter, 43, on the organising committee of the festival, estimated that around 1,500 were at the Saturday event alone.
“I’d say it was absolutely a fantastic rip-roaring success,” she said, adding that the whole point of the festival was simply “to get the potato back on the table”.
They also hope to repeat it again in the future, she said.