De­bidee Lane was blackberry heaven

Mid Louth Independent - - NEWS - Hu­bert Mur­phy’s look at life in Mid Louth hmur­phy@drogheda-in­de­pen­dent.ie | 041 9876820

SUR­PRIS­INGLY, it was the coun­try of ori­gin, Por­tu­gal, that got my at­ten­tion rather than the high price that was be­ing charged for the small plas­tic con­tainer of about a dozen black­ber­ries, re­cently, in the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket.

Per­haps I should not have been so sur­prised in view of the fact that con­tainer loads of fruit and veg­eta­bles ar­rive from the con­ti­nent, daily. At times, even the hum­ble spud has to com­pete with pota­toes from the Land of the Pharaohs.

I couldn’t help but re­call the time when I was in my teens in the early for­ties when there was an abun­dance of black­ber­ries in De­bidee Lane. At that time, the lane as I knew it, ex­tended from McEn­tag­gart’s house just op­po­site the Ardee Golf ”Links”, through the town­lands of The Glebe, Mul­len­stown, Ra­hanna and Charlestown. Tra­di­tion had it that orig­i­nally, the road was con­structed un­der the in­struc­tions of the then Lord Deputy to quell the un­ruly Mc Ma­hon clans in Mon­aghan. Many years later when a new road “The New Line” was built from Ardee to Car­rick­macross the Deputy’s Road be­came De­bidee Lane.

By the for­ties, whilst some of the lane was still pass­able, most of it was ei­ther in­cor­po­rated into ad­join­ing fields or was choked with hawthorn trees, whin bushes, bri­ars, bram­bles and net­tles. Dried crushed leaves from the hawthorns were of­ten used to sup­ple­ment the megre few ounces of the tea that was ra­tioned dur­ing the lean war years. The laneway’s young net­tles, be­sides be­ing fed to tur­keys was also mixed with champ (mashed pota­toes).

Bram­bles grew in pro­fu­sion in the Glebe sec­tion of the lane. Gather­ing the berries how­ever, de­pended on as when they were ripe and as to when itin­er­ants then known as gyp­sies ar­rived with their horses and car­a­vans. Their com­ing would cause a tem­po­rary dis­tur­bance to the res­i­dents of the small ter­raced cot­tages in their oa­sis of tran­quil­ity tucked away in their cul-de -sac. They would not be ac­cus­tomed to the neigh­ing of horses and the yelp­ing of dogs yank­ing at chains which were tied to car­a­van wheels. The dogs were a de­ter­rent to in­quis­i­tive lo­cals from get­ting to close to the en­camp­ment. The horses when not hob­bled were teth­ered to bushes. It was reck­oned that the horse ma­nure sub­scribed to the growth and fruit­ful­ness of the bram­bles. With the dung and with the ab­sence of chem­i­cals and in­sec­ti­cides on hedges and weeds the fruit would def­i­nitely be or­ganic!

Our fam­ily’s first in­di­ca­tion of their ar­rival to the lo­cal­ity would be the ap­pear­ance of one of their wom­en­folk com­ing to the back door of the house with a 2lb jam jar in her hand and ask­ing for a sup of milk. Her re­quest was usu­ally pref­aced with an in­vo­ca­tion for a Di­vine bless­ing for my mother and fam­ily. I re­call on one oc­ca­sion her com­plain­ing that the milk she had got the pre­vi­ous day did not agree with her “childer” and that they were up half the night with di­ar­rhea. Al­though my mother doubted that the milk was the cause of the ill­ness she still apol­o­gized pro­fusely. How­ever, it was later dis­cov­ered that she mis­tak­enly had been given skim milk. This was milk that had its cream ex­tracted by a Di­abolo sep­a­ra­tor. If the milk was the cause of the chil­dren’s ill­ness it is a won­der that, with al­most ev­ery gro­cer and su­per­mar­ket nowa­days sell­ing low-fat (skim milk) more of the public are not af­fected with this com­plaint. The en­camp­ment was of­ten vis­ited by farm­ers look­ing for pota­toe gath­er­ers. There, they al­ways found help­ful and will­ing work­ers.

The Ra­hanna over­grown sec­tion of the lane was a pop­u­lar and re­ward­ing lo­ca­tion for the pick­ers. In or­der to get at the fruit, net­tles, docks, bri­ars and weeds known as Queen Ann’s Lace had to be tram­pled on. With­ered stalks of the lat­ter were of­ten used as peashoot­ers. The pre­ferred ammo for the peashoot­ers was wiz­ened peas. Some­times ripe corn was used. It was es­sen­tial that the dead stalks were read­ied as ear­wigs had a habit of in­hab­it­ing them. Get­ting berries from the higher-up branches was al­ways a prob­lem. At one stage a sling (a long piece of twine with an iron “S” hook at­tached to one end) was de­vised to lasso the branches. An­other idea was to pull them down with a long-han­dled hoe. Taken for granted as be­ing part and par­cel of the day’s work were scratches from thorns, scrabs from dalks and net­tle stings. The ap­plic­tion of Zam-Buk usu­ally pre­vented the wounds from be­com­ing in­fected. Whereas flies and bees could be both­er­some ,wasps, and es­pe­cially their nests had to be avoided at all costs. The tra­di­tional treat­ment for their stings was the ap­pli­ca­tion of vine­gar to the skin wound.

Whilst most of the berries col­lected were des­tined to be sold, some of them were re­tained to sup­pli­a­ment the morn­ing por­ridge. More as jam, when poured over a rice pud­ding, made a de­li­cious dessert. The com­bi­na­tion of ap­ples and berries made tasty tarts. From the col­lec­tors point of view, the real in­cen­tive was that all the money that they got for their ef­forts could be kept as pocket money.

For col­lect­ing the berries most gath­er­ers used tin cans which at one time con­tained boiled sweets. If the fruit was damp or wet when col­lected or was left for an un­due length of time in the cans, it be­came soft and mushy. As long as there was no vis­i­ble signs of fungi on the black crop it was bought af­ter be­ing weighed by the Kier­ans, on the Dun­dalk Road. Large bar­rels were used for stor­ing the fruit be­fore it was trans­ported to ei­ther the Lairds’ or Lambs’ jam fac­to­ries.

Some un­scrupu­lous gath­er­ers were not byond adding a lit­tle wa­ter to their pick­ings, thereby in­creas­ing the weight and en­hanc­ing their fi­nan­cial gain. The en­tre­pre­neur­ial and shrewd Kier­ans who also bought dead rab­bits and pi­geons for ex­port were prob­a­bly well aware of, and turned”a blind eye” to such pec­ca­dil­los.

That sec­tion of the laneway near­est to the town “De­bidy Lane” where once there were only three small cosy cot­tages is now an av­enue of el­e­gant houses with man­i­cured lawns and trimmed hedges. There is barely a bram­ble bush to be seen.

Ardee’s De­bidee Lane was the spot for black­ber­ries.

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