Sunday, 29 November 2015

Garlic Days.



I have been a mite slow in moving the garlics indoors this year but there haven't been any frosts worth speaking about so there have been no weather casualties. After lifting the garlic bulbs at the end of July I spread them out on the greenhouse benching to dry. It wasn't long before the yellowing foliage became desiccated and broke off from the bulbs. I have to concede that I have probably grown slightly too many garlics over the past few years. I still have two or three bags of cloves from 2014 in the freezer. That being the case I think that I willi restrict my 2016 harvest to forty or fifty bulbs. That will give me sufficent "seed," for 2017 and also provide a modest harvest for consumption.


Boyfriend for the Chickens

When I went out to the orchard at dusk to close the chicken coop the chickens were still out in the run. It is a bit of a habit but I did a quick count. Nine! None missing then but one extra! Looking into the gloom I realised that the ninth bird was just outside my netting and wasn't a chicken. It was a cock pheasant. All parties seemed to be happy. It wasn't long before the pheasant appreciated my presence and high kneed off to the road. I don't think that Fergus Pheasant had managed to hop over the fence and pleasured the chickens but who knows. Hybrid chickens/pheasants are possible so I had better keep this lothario outside the fence. Looks as if I will need a shotgun.


Saturday, 28 November 2015

Big Egg Little Egg


Just over four weeks have passed since I was presented with my first egg. I suppose that the eggs were initially slightly smaller than one might have purchased from the supermarcardo but heyho that has to be expected from young birds. However over the last month the size of the eggs has increased, likewise that of the chickens, and yesterday one of the eggs was of goose egg proportions. I expect that it will turn out to be a double yolker. Another possibility is that there is an egg inside an egg. That would be much less likely but still a possibility.

I am beginning to suspect that one of the, "girls," is not laying. She is noticeably smaller than the others and her comb is not as large as that of her coop mates. Without the benefit of an infrared camera or a vegetable based marker I can't be totally sure.



Monday, 23 November 2015

Potatoes by the Pound

You won't get too many of these to the pound. In fact rather less than one. Granted this is not a particularly attractive specimen but it weighed in at a stonking eighteen ounces and its shape won't detract from its eating qualities.

I can't remember the variety of this potato. I grew it last year and as it appeared to be a fairly good cropper I kept some three dozen seed potatoes to plant this year. As well as producing a good quantity of large tubers the variety seems to have a high resistance to blight. These two factors have convinced me to keep back a few dozen of the smaller potatoes to plant again next spring.



Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Broharris Canal.

When I was checking W.A. McCutcheon's book, "The Industrial Archaeology of Northern Ireland," for detail on the Strabane Canal I came upon a few paragraphs on what was referred to as the Broharris Canal. I had heard of this navigation but knew nothing about it save for its approximate location. It was some two miles in length and ran in a south easterly direction from Ballymacran Point. It was constructed during the 1820's at a cost of £4,500. McCutcheon relates that certain heavy and bulky foodstuffs and raw materials were trafficked along the canal but that it was mainly used to bring ashore shellfish and kelp from the shallows of Lough Foyle. The kelp was employed extensively as a fertiliser on the slob lands of Myroe and the surrounding area. I suspect that the cut must have been contiguous to the Burnfoot River.

Not long after the construction of the Broharris Canal there was a proposal to construct a separate canal which would have been some 3 miles and 10 chains in length and would have ran from Ballymacran Point to a basin in the townland of Shanreagh about a mile from the then boundaries of Limavady. It was envisaged that two locks would have been required and that the canal would have had a bottom width of twenty feet and a top width of thirty five and a depth of five feet. A John Killaly carried out a survey and he estimated that construction costs would be some £12,155. Nothing came of this proposal.

Sources: W. A. McCutcheon - "The Industrial Archaeology of Northern Ireland."

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Copper Bottomed Eggs


I can't say that I have been bereft of kitchen accoutrements to prepare the garden eggs for consumption. That said I was more than happy to accept pre birthday gifts of a miniature proware copper frying pan and saucepan. I suspect that they may have been purchased at Lakeland but as they were gifts it is probably not quite pukka to check out the purchase price!

The frying pan is only 12cm in diameter and the the saucepan has a diameter of 9 cm. That said they can both cope with two eggs. I have to say that I am coming down on the side of fried eggs rather than boiled.


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Around Lough Fea in the Rain

It doesn't seem a year since I took out the horseless carriage and drove into the Sperrins to participate in Sperrin Harriers 5k run around Lough Fea. But a full year had passed and on Saturday I was again standing in the rugged countryside five miles uphill from Draperstown.

Last year's weather was cold but dry. This year it was not only cold but very very wet. A distinct breeze did not improve the conditions. It is easy to make little of the weather forecaster's talk of the windchill factor but if you are running through a constant drizzle with a fifteen or sixteen miles per hour wind buffeting you the headline temperature of eight degrees centigrade, (forty six degrees centigrade in proper measurement) feels much much less. By the time I came through the finish line I couldn't feel my fingers.

The race attracted eighteen more competitors than last year with one hundred and fifty hardy souls lining up. The start point for the race is quite narrow permitting no more than four or five individuals to stand next to one another. Last year the organisers placed time flags along the side of the path with people being asked to stand behind the flag that showed a time close to their estimated finishing time. This useful feature was not utilised this year. As a result there were people standing close to the front row who should clearly have been taking a position fifteen or more rows back. Even more worryingly some of those who were obviously misplaced were juniors. In a world where the mantra of, "health and safety," is bandied about and the risk of litigation is always present it might be appropriate for the organisers to control the start more effectively. The tardiness in the availability of results is also something that needs to be addressed. Thirty hours after the race I still don't know what position I finished in and who I did or did not beat.


Friday, 13 November 2015

Morning Eggs

The chickens are now all performing their chickenly function in a satisfactory manner. One or other of them may take a day off from their egg production duties but seven eggs per diem is now the norm. Hopefully the wintery weather will not result in a downward trend.

I had assumed that most if not all of the eggs would have been, "vented," during the night. Certainly one or two may be present when I let the hens out of their coop shortly after seven o'clock but the bulk of the eggs seem to be laid within an hour of the hens having consumed their breakfast. Strange that. Well maybe not. Perhaps it is a pressure thing. That would sort of make sense.




Monday, 9 November 2015

The Strabane Canal - A Short History

This navigation extended some four miles and five chains from Strabane to the tidal waters of the River Foyle. (A chain is 66 feet in length.) The person behind the project was John James Hamilton, the First Marquess of Abercorn, (it was only in 1868 that the Hamiltons were elevated to the rank of Dukedom). The canal was constructed between 1791 and 1796 at a cost of £11,858 towards which the Irish Parliament provided £3,703 by way of 4% debentures.

Construction was under the supervision of a John Whally of Coleraine although Richard Owen the engineer on the Lagan Navigation was consulted initially in relation to the course of the, "cut." Two locks were required and it was not until 1795 that these were completed. The canal was opened to public traffic on 21st March 1796 to much acclaim. The Strabane Journal reported that the first boat to pass through the canal was owned by a Mr Fleming and that, "ale and bonfires and illuminations and other demonstrations of joy closed the night." Both locks were over one hundred feet in length and could accommodate ocean going schooners of some 300 tons burden. The Abercorn estate charged a tonnage rate of two shillings per ton.

In 1820 the canal was leased to a group of individuals from Strabane and District and for a time the early success of the canal continued. In 1836 over 10,500 tons of merchandise was carried on the navigation. However in 1847 Strabane was connected to Ireland's burgeoning railway network when a standard gauge railway line was completed from Londonderry. This hearalded the move from waterway to railway as a mode of moving freight. On 1st July 1860 the company which had been operating the canal since 1820 went into liquidation. It was replaced by the Strabane Steam Navigation Company which continued to operate the canal until circa 1890 when it too went into liquidation. Its annual gross revenue had never exceeded £3000 with a net profit that never exceeded £300.

The next operator of the canal was the Strabane Canal Company Limited which was incorporated on 28th April 1890. It took a thirty one year lease from the Duke of Abercorn at an annual rent of £300. By this time the condition of the canal had begun to deteriorate. In 1900 the Donegal Railway Company opened its line from Strabane to Victoria Road Londonderry providing another route for transporting freight. In 1913 the second Duke of Abercorn sold the canal to Strabane & Foyle Navigation Limited subject to but with the benefit of the lease in favour of the Strabane Canal Company Limited. Under the auspices of the new owner and its controlling shareholder, (William Smyth), attempts were made to improve the draught of the navigation and a steam tug was acquired. By the 1930's the traffic on the canal had more or less ceased. The construction of the Craigavon Bridge at Londonderry, which unlike its two predecessors did not have an opening section to facilitate up river traffic may well have accelerated matters.

In December 1962 the section of canal from the Strabane Basin was officially closed. In recent years a 1.5 mile portion of the canal including the two locks was renovated with the benefit of a £1.3 m grant.

(For info on Strabane & Foyle Navigation Limited see

Sources: W. A. McCutcheon, "The Canals of the North of Ireland," - David & Charles 1965


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Strabane Gasworks.

Strabane's municipal gasworks were established on a site extending to some three acres and three roods situate between what was originally called Port Street, (now Port Road) and the Strabane Canal. As with most of the land in the environs of the town the site belonged to the Abercorns. On 10th May 1904 The Urban District Council of Strabane took a two hundred and fifty year lease of the lands at an annual rental of ten pounds. The term of years ran from 1st November 1903 and the UDC covenanted to construct by 31st October 1905 "such gasworks and other buildings as are contemplated ..... by the Strabane Gas Order 1902."

It appears that the establishment of the Strabane Gasworks was very much dependant upon the Treasury giving a loan of £15,000 to Strabane UDC. On the 11th February 1904 Mr. Hemphill, MP for Tyrone North queried the First Lord of the Treasury, (Austen Chamberlain), about the delay in providing the loan. Chamberlain's response makes clear that the figures presented to the Treasury cast a question mark over the viability of the venture. Clearly however the funds were made available by the Treasury - ultimately.

This was not Strabane's first gasworks. There was apparently a gasworks some 400m South of the Park Street locus. On 20th May 1854 a Mr George Mearns who was described as the manager of the Strabane Gasworks married a Susan Arbuckke at 2nd Presbyterian Church, Strabane.

The Port Road Gasworks ultimately closed down on 9th August 1986. Some two years later the freehold reversion in the site was acquired from the Abercorn Estate by Strabane District Council, (successor to Strabane UDC).