It's chilly today...no sunshine, just a heavy drizzle that drips down the back of your neck whenever you venture outside. At least the flowers won't mind...they seem to perk up much more after rain than they do when watered with a watering can...

I've concentrated on planting tubs and containers this year...they are standing outside the poor decrepit little caravan...mostly pansies, though there are some pinks and a sort of bright daisy-like flower, the name of which I can't remember without going out to read the label.

And if I do that I'll get my feet wet 'cos I'm wearing flip-flops.

I'm back, though I don't suppose you missed me for ten minutes...just put some old potatoes on to boil because I'm making fish cakes for supper tonight and new potatoes tend to stay firm and won't mash easily...bearing in mind Irish people practically live on potatoes the quality of those in the shops isn't good...and there is no choice of varieties either...it's either white or red. We never get those delicious Jersey potatoes here...

Most small farmers use a section of a field...fenced off from the cattle of course...to grow a few rows of spuds. Then the following year they go to another corner of the field and so on. During the early 1800's when owning your own land was almost impossible due to the greed of the big landlords, people became skilled at growing sufficent potatoes to last their family until the following harvest on very small plots of land right outside their cottages...all rural families lived on a diet of potatoes and buttermilk with the occasional treat of a poached rabbit or pheasant. Fish were poached as well from the loughs and rivers but the penalties if you were caught were severe...prompt eviction from your home and the loss of your job meant you either had to take to the road and live by begging or go to the Workhouse.

The family pig was known as The Gentleman who pays the rent...you didn't eat him or her when it was time for slaughter...the meat would be sold on in order for you to have enough cash to pay your yearly rent...woe betide you if the rent money wasn't forthcoming. And it was the same with any eggs the chickens laid...far better to take them to the mart each week to get cash to buy flour for the soda bread than eat the eggs yourselves.

Describing the poverty which beset the Irish who lived in the West during the 1700 and 1800's, is always fraught with difficulty because it tends to be beyond our comprehension...the major cities didn't escape either though theirs was a 'different' sort of poverty...living in appalling conditions in tenement blocks their proirity was enough food on the table and heating during the winter months.

The one item which was rarely interfered with by the country landlords was the right of the cottagers to gather the turf...there was always a good fire in the hearth and plenty of turf in the turf shed. A purloined rabbit cooking over the hearth was an instant giveaway because of the smell of meat...if the bailffs or the landlord himself stopped outside your door then you'd be in serious trouble if they were able to smell supper cooking...so the women used to say it was a dead chicken they'd picked up in the yard.

Poverty was seen by the Victorians as a sin...the Irish were lampooned in popular publications like Punch as being good-for-nothing Papists who lived with their pigs in abject squalor...all of their own making. Little thought was given to the very rich and absent landlords who owned vast tracts of Irish land and treated their workers as nothing more than chattels to be evicted at will and often on a whim.

There were some...all too few...landlords who were kindly towards their tenants. Some took the trouble to learn the Irish so they could have a conversation with the man who cared for their horses or be able to greet the hordes of little children who would hide when they saw him coming. The wives of those men gave the cottagers clothes and cared for the sick and dying and brought baskets of food...but they themselves were heavily critcised by their fellows for going native and learning the Irish language and being able to speak it fluently was regarded as being beyond the comprehension of the majority of the landlords. So, they too suffered in a way because they found themselves on the very fringes of the society they lived in and were no longer invited to balls and dinners and the other important occasions in a rich landlords life...

It isn't easy to recall how the majority of the Irish on the Western seaboard lived...it's difficult to grasp that the terribly wealthy English landlords had such a powerful sway over their tenants...remember many of the landlords had never set foot in Ireland, they left the running of their vast estates to bailiffs...change was gradual and came with the formation of the secret societies who met in quiet woods and remote public houses to plot their revenge and plan for changes...

The stories of the Whiteboys and their ilk, and the terrible revenge they exacted from their masters will have to wait for another day.