The variety of potato at the root of the Great Famine will be widely available in Ireland for the first time in almost 170 years from next week after being re-cultivated by an Antrim potato farmer with a keen interest in the history of the humble spud.
The Irish Lumper was hailed for its nutritional value when it was introduced to Ireland in the early 19th century and quickly grew popular among impoverished farmers in Munster and Connacht because of the ease with which it flourished in the poorest of soil.
The dependence of Ireland’s poor on this single variety proved calamitous, however, and once blight took hold in the 1840s the Lumper was wiped out. It all but disappeared in post-Famine Ireland but five years ago Michael McKillop of Glens of Antrim Potatoes decided to grow the potato.
“I had read in all the history books about its awful flavours and soapy texture of the Lumper, but I wanted to see for myself what this potato with a black history was like,” he said yesterday. “I grew a few and was amazed at how good they tasted.”
So he set about bringing back an improved version of the variety and next week the results of his endeavours will appear on the shelves of Marks & Spencer which will sell it for just three weeks.
Last summer Mr McKillop took the Lumper to the Delicious Ireland consumer show at the Selfridges Foodhall London. He was amazed by the public response, but the yield last year was not enough to bring it to a wider market. He redoubled his cultivation efforts this year and has been rewarded with a yield that will keep M&S going until the end of March.