Debidee Lane was blackberry heaven
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.