Potatoes were the staple food of the vast majority of Irish population. They where harvested towards mid/end of August and were stored until consumed. The ‘Lumper’ was the species of potato at that time and seldom survived beyond April/May before deteriorating. These were fed to the pigs which were fattened and sold to pay the rent to the landlord as they had no other source of income.
The Great Hunger in Ireland
We all know of the Great Hunger; it was a watershed period in the depravity suffered by our ancestors who experienced hunger, hardship and injustice most days of their lives.
The following is an account from several counties of their conditions as reported by Daniel O’Connell, it is painful to read. Observations on Corn Laws,: On Political Pravity and Ingratitude, and on Clerical and Personal Slander; in the Shape of a Meek and Modest Reply to the Second Letter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, Waterford, and Wexford, to Ambrose Lisle Phillipps, Esq by Daniel O’Connell, Lord Mayor of Dublin
During this period from May to August, the stock of potatoes was either already consumed or had deteriorated to the point where they couldn’t be eaten. These months became known as the ‘meal months’. Those who could afford it bought yellow meal, which they soaked in water and mixed with greens from the hedgerows but most of the Irish population had nothing to eat and no money to buy yellow meal. Their diet was exclusively wild plants which they gathered from the countryside, much of the ‘end of summer illnesses’ of the period was attributed to diet and lack of nourishment
Praiseach bhuí, (spelled prassagh, p 172 in the report by Daniel O’Connell above) a wild plant of the brassica (cabbage) family was one of their diet mainstays in the summer
It is now known praiseach bhuí (Sinapis arvensis, wild mustard, charlock) contains a substance that is harmful when consumed in quantities and the seeds can be toxic when eaten in quantity