John Clark’s legacy lives on near the Giant’s Causeway in two ways.
One is a Blue Plaque which marks the farmhouse he once lived in and the other is the newly renamed Randox Northern Ireland Potato Festival which returns on Saturday, October 13.
As a pioneering potato breeder, this annual family-focused event is inspired by John Clark’s story and has become an important celebration of his achievements while showcasing the best of the local agri-food industry.
At the recent festival launch held in the Causeway Hotel, his daughter and niece said he would have been ‘quietly pleased’ that his life-long work was remembered in this way.
Having left school at the age of 12 and with no further formal education, John Clark became known as the ‘potato wizard’ thanks to his ground-breaking research and brilliant scientific-understanding. Over 30 of his varieties were successfully certified by the Ministry of Agriculture’s Seed Classification system. These included the Ulster Knight, ‘grandfather’ of the much loved Maris Piper.
Daughter Miriam Hanna said the fields were her father’s favourite place and no doubt he would be pleased to see potato crops continue to flourish across the Causeway Coast.
This is thanks to the efforts of people like Mark McCurdy, whose family name is synonymous with the local potato industry. From their farm at Whitepark Bay they supply potatoes across a wide part of Northern Ireland.
Mark said: “We would plant around 130 acres on land stretching from Ballycastle to Coleraine and deliver to outlets from Bushmills to Crumlin. We had a good growing season this year but we did have to work at this and do a lot of irrigating to combat the dryness. It is great to see an event like the Potato Festival taking place on our doorstep and it’s an extra boost for us at this time of year.”
At the Festival, potato enthusiasts will be able to enjoy a series of specialist talks which include the story of John Clarke and a display of all his varieties.
For those interested in finding out more, his family are very proud that important scrapbooks detailing his work are available to view at the Agri-Food and Bio Sciences Institute Library at Newforge Lane in Belfast. The Library is also home to many of the accolades he won throughout his life. These include the Lord Derby Gold Medal (1948), the John Snell Medal by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Cambridge (mid-1950s) and an OBE for Services to Agriculture in 1969.
Back to the Festival, and this year it is set to be bigger than ever.
With a World Heritage Site as its backdrop, the event coincides with the annual autumn community open day at the Giant’s Causeway so access to the Visitor Centre and guided tours are free of charge to all.
For the first time, the Festival will welcome the Naturally North Coast and Glens Artisan Market. Its diverse traders sell a range of local produce and craft items which are a perfect fit for the event’s aim of being an agri-food celebration.
Celebrity chef Paula McIntyre MBE will be at the helm in the festival cookery theatre working with other home grown chefs and producers to provide a series of live demonstrations.
In the exhibitor area, look out for the Q Radio Bus and PSNI tractor while the new ‘Kidzone’ will have bouncy castles, potato-inspired activity workshops, balloon-modelling, face-painting, a petting farm and a chance to meet ‘The Mighty Spud’.
To find out more about the event go to Facebook or Twitter or www.potatoni.com
Alongside main sponsor Randox, the festival has received financial help from National Trust, Glens of Antrim Potatoes, Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council, The NI Regional Food Programme (DAERA), Jamison Potatoes, McCurdy Potatoes, Wilsons Country, Manor Fresh, Active Packaging, First Trust Bank and Food NI.