From a framed poster in St Crone's Church, Arranmore Island:


ONE HUNDRED years ago the picking of the Scottish potato crop was a vital part of the income of families on the Western seaboard.  The £20 earned by the Irish tattiehokers for the six months picking kept the roof over their head  and food on the table in the grim, lean months of spring and early summer.

J. J. Keaveny, in these three verse paragraphs, enters the mind and life of one of the  most articulate of these tatiehokers — Rosie Rua Ni Gallchoir who describes her work — and much, much else besides — in her book published by Sairseal ÓMarcaigh (1988).

The book which documents a poverty and hardship that people today - even in the West of Ireland would find inconceivable is the inspiration for the poem/;


The green hoke nearly over.
The spuds and salt and milk and plates
Cleaned up, we skip through five broad fields
run along the shore.
Pockets filled with winkles,
Barnacles prised from rocks,
Dulse ripped
off in the swirling rock stream
We scream our
jokes,our Aran bladaracht
Forgetting the backache, the smeary
The crabbed Mayo gaffer and his
dry Gaelic.
But remembering Aran every time we look out at that rock —
Ailsa Craig — and streamers ploughing up to Gourock,
Smelling in the dulse the sweet duilisc of Inis Caorach
Hearing the
butcher hectoringthe calf on his way home
O Aran, Aran, Aranmore
– God,  take me back home soon.

Four miles is no long walk
This gusty Sunday
The chanel of the Sacred Hearts fills slowly up.
The tall, coiffed Irish nun smiles over at us
Kneeling in the side aisle.
Girvan locals eye us in our steaming ragged coats
My sister Kitty coughing again and again,
The priest’s Scots accent and his hurried sermon
Fade into an Aran mist as we thumb and finger our beads,
Sé do bheatha Mhuire, atá lán de ghrásta
And still Kitty coughs.

Drying coats and tatty skirts, the Bothy livens up
As Rosses fiddlers draw joy from rosined strings,
Feet hammer the wooden floor, Kitty too joins in.   
As hooks, sweeps and whoops fill up the room.
Later,later, three letters — to Annie's da, to Francie’s widowed aunt,
And easing on heartbreak in a page to my dear dear mother;
I seal and stamp them from my twelve-penny lot
And on my knees seal and stamp the end of this day in


Rosie Rua — Rose Green as she became on her marriage — was born in 1879 and reared on Aranmore Island by her mother and her step-father, the Butcher. At nine she was hired  out to farmers of substance in the Lagan — a fertile area In North West Ulster. Her older sister advised her to come to Ayrshire for the better money earned by tattiehokers — from “the green hoke” in June through to Hallowe'en. She worked at this till she was 25; subsequently she became a nanny back in Ireland, married and gained renown as the best traditional singer in Aranmore. In the early 60's her laser-sharp recollections were transcribed by Padraig Ua Cnaimhsí, who taught in Aranmore for 40 years. '' Roise Rua" is a rich mine of local history.”