Blast from the Past: Gathering potatoes

Many farming children often got roped in to gathering potatoes, but it was often hard, cold work

By Helen McGurk
Friday, 6th May 2022, 4:57 pm
Updated Friday, 6th May 2022, 5:27 pm
Potato pickers  in 1979
Potato pickers in 1979

As many News Letter readers will know, growing up on a farm is wonderful life, a fresh-air-and pink cheeks childhood spent outdoors, running in fields, feeding pet lambs from Lucozade bottles, their tails jiggling in delight, tending to mewling kittens.

Of course it was hard work too, but the annual chores could be great fun. The summer months were bliss, when the fields were alive with tractors, mowing, turning and bailing as farmers literally made hay when the sun shone.

I can still conjure up the sweet smell of freshly cut hay, lugging the bales (in those days rectangular) into tower formations, feeling the scratch of it against sunburnt arms, which would later be slathered in Calomine lotion,

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In those days health and safety didn’t seem to be a concern. I remember sitting on the back of the baler as the emerging bale would push me out on to the stubbly mown ground. No adult said a word.

The only aspect of farming I hated was the annual torture of gathering the ‘praties’. It was cold, back-breaking work - and hazardous too, if some clown decided to lob a rotten Kerr’s Pink at your head, or put muck-caked worms down your polo neck.

By the end of the day we’d be gathering on our knees, except for the ‘great gatherer’ who could keep up a lethal speed all day. Then we’d go home covered in muck, soil set hard under our nails, and sleep like logs until the morning when we were up and at it again,... although, of course, all we really wanted to do was watch Grange Hill and be couch potatoes.