The Avondhu - By The Fireside
LABOUR INTENSIVE OPERATION
The next operation was the harvesting of the crop. Experienced farmers could see at a glance when the beet plant filled out and was ready to be pulled. However, it was the factory who decided the time of harvesting, regardless of whether the beet was ready or not. Before beet harvesters were introduced, harvesting had to be done by hand. Each beet was individually pulled up by the leaves and the clay knocked off the roots. Some people pulled two at a time and knocked them together to dislodge the soil. It was then stacked. A heavy hand-held blade, called a snagger, then cut off the roots and also the tops of the beet. This was a tedious operation. Very cold or icy conditions made the job more difficult, as you can imagine. Also, your hands were numb and it was possible to be minus a finger, without even realising it! Later, ploughs were used to break up the soil and loosen the beet plants to make them easier to pull.
The beet would then be loaded into trailers with special beet pikes or sprongs. These had knobs at the end, so that it would not stick into the beet. The harvested beet was put into a heap for the sugar factory lorries to collect. This was done by horse and cart before the time of tractors with front end loaders. Heaps of sugar beet along the roadsides in rural Ireland were a common sight.
The whole harvesting process was very labour intensive and it was reckoned that it took about 350 man-hours to produce one acre of sugar beet. Later, tractor-drawn Armer beet harvesters which had a belt-lifting system were used, which made the operation much faster and more efficient. After harvesting, cattle were left into the field and ate the beet tops, which had high food value.
During the height of the beet season, the road between Tallow and Mallow had an endless line of beet lorries going to and from the factory, with produce from West Waterford and East Cork.
When it arrived at the factory, the raw beet was washed. It was then sliced and the juice extracted by diffuser. The juice was then filtered to a clear liquid of about 16% sugar. Then it was sent to be ‘cooked’ in the refinery, where the liquid was further evaporated into crystal sugar.
The grower was paid on the sugar content of the beet. This meant the weight of the unwashed beet minus the tare, i.e. debris, soil. Stones, etc. After processing, the factory returned beet pulp to the farmer, which was used as animal feedstuff. It was in the form of dry pulp, wet pulp and pulp nuts. It was often mixed with additives, such as oats, etc and was high in nutrition.
BALLYDUFF RAILWAY STATION
In many cases around our area, much of the harvested sugar beet was taken to the beet factory by CIE on rail. Ballyduff Railway Station was not very far away and many availed of that method of transport. Originally, the beet was brought to the station and it was manually loaded onto the carriages, which was a back-breaking exercise. Beet was loaded onto railway carriages at almost every station on the Dungarvan to Mallow line. This included Cappoquin, Tallow Road, Ballyduff, Clondulane, Fermoy, Ballyhooly and Castletownroche. Of course, later, the steam engines gave way to diesel locomotives.
Before cars became plentiful on the roads, many people travelled via railway to places such as Cork and Dublin for shopping, holidays, etc. Around our area they got on the train, either at Tallow Road, Ballyduff or the Fermoy station. Tallow
Road station was located in Glencairn.
Ballyduff Railway Station closed in 1967. It later became Blackwater Lodge, mainly accommodating salmon fishermen. It was located about a mile west of the village, just off the road going towards Waterpark and Clondulane.
The last station master in Ballyduff was Jimmy Hackett. He and his wife later lived in the middle cottage of three in Kilcoran - between Hannon’s and Hartigan’s. He was from Campile in Co Wexford originally and his wife was Nora Whelan from Coolisheal, Ballyduff. People remember him well going to Conna Mass in his Morris Minor.
Mary Daly of Shanbally once recalled her sister Elsie Power of Conna and herself getting up early one summer morning on September 4th, 1938 and frantically cycling to Ballyduff Railway Station to catch the train. They just made it in time and travelled to Dublin to see the All-Ireland hurling final between Waterford and Dublin in Croke Park. The final score was Dublin 2-5 Waterford 1-6. The sisters came home on the train again that evening and cycled home at the end of a very long day.
One of the biggest names in Irish sugar beet history was Michael Joseph Costello (‘Mickey Joe’). He was a Tipperary man, who was born in 1904. He was an army man who trained in the USA and the UK. He retired from the army in 1945 and soon after, became General Manager of the Irish Sugar Company. Up to that time, there was constant unrest and strikes in the Company but because of his astute management, there were no strikes in the 20 years he was General Manager. In 1959 he established Erin Foods, which had a branch in Midleton. It was an off-shoot of the Irish Sugar Company. In 1973, Mr Costello was honoured by King Baudouin of Belgium for his services to the sugar beet industry internationally. He died in a Dublin hospital in 1986.