I was reddin up in the front garden when a big tractor and trailer of seaweed went passed. The trailer had a horizontal ogre on the back.
It wasn’t, as far as I could see, wrack from the shore in Rostrevor – it was of the ‘broad leaf’ kelp variety that with the spreader would be shredded and spread on fields. An alternative to nitrates or slurry.
My immediate thought was that there must be an organic farm up the road; perhaps a ‘Save the Earth Movement’.
And then I thought of the paradox of the huge tractor and trailer and no doubt digger to fill it on the shore. Now I know we’re not going to go back to donkeys and creels or indeed horses and carts filled with a grape. However, the growth of seaweed was sustainable then. We didn’t cultivate seaweed but we did cart it home when storms drove banks of it up on the shore.
When the tide was out we carted it up a short distance and built it in ricks along the road, convenient to take home at a later time.
Understandably we took a load home with us that evening; however one neighbour always went home with an empty cart. When asked ‘why?’ he replied: “I’m drawing in today; not drawing home.” Now there’s demarcation for you.
A little further along the coast from us they cultivated wrack beds in the Mill Bay. Farmers rented an acre or so (from the Kilmorey estate, I’d guess) between high and low tide and criss-crossed their plot with granite boulders.
Nature done the rest. In time these boulders were shrouded in a heavy crop of seaweed to be cut and harvested. Heavy wet work for man and horse and cart in the soft footing between the tides.
Fertiliser for potatoes or other root crops and top dressing for lea ground where it was noted stock preferred to graze areas treated in this way – traces of salts and minerals no doubt flavouring the ground.
When the weather is clement I go down to the shore at The Monument. It is the obelisk along the Warrenpoint Road to honour Major General Ross.
In 1814 he was in charge of the British troops that burnt Washington. Seems, to boost morale, the American troops whitewashed their headquarters’ charred remains, thereby giving The White House its name. I see him as the Rostrevor man who made them whitewash the White House.
On the shore I fill a couple or three bags of seaweed, put them in the back of the car and take them up to my garden in Knockbarragh.
There I spread them down the alley of an opened drill; knock a little soil over it with the back of my hand and plant my seed potatoes.
Closing the drill I wait for a bit of leaf before moulding and expect a nice crop of clean potatoes and not a trace of wrack. It’s as simple as that.
I also have to hand a couple of barrels of seaweed and water. A liquid feed. Naturally you’d give it a year or so to ferment but I always thought a good ‘robust’ smell was a mark of its potency until a friend of mine (who knows about these things) tells me that it is at its best when there is no smell at all.
I gather where seaweed is/was cultivated and used extensively there is a knowledge of the qualities of the various types.
A Mourne man (speaking to me at the carpark at The Monument) mentioned a high quality variety known as ‘May Tails’.
However, I must say here and now that there is one type of seaweed I do not like. And that’s Carageen Moss. It’s a dark green brownish tuft picked in early summer.
Gathered off the rocks at low tide. Bleached in the sun until white, it is then well washed and boiled in milk. Set in a pudding bowl it turns out as a white glutinous mound.
My mother championed it. In modern speak she thought it a miracle food. That was because in the 1940s she was the cook in Clooneeven – one of the big houses along the shore.
There a woman of delicate disposition more or less lived and thrived on a diet of carrageen moss and a dollop of blackcurrant jam.
I’ve never liked milky things and to me it was always and ever only palatable the other way round. A dollop of carrageen moss smothered in a mountain of blackcurrant jam.