In the hedgerows and on the steep hillsides of Ireland grow tiny wild berries sweetened by the summer sun, signaling the start of the harvest. These purple berries are called fraughans, derived from the Irish fraochan. Other names are the hearts (hurts, also known as hursts) and the whortleberry, bilberry, or cowberry. Despite their small size, the wild counterpart to blueberries grown in the field is characterized by a sweet taste and juiciness.
Their peak ripeness occurs during harvest-time celebrations, like making hay, which is a significant festival and time for feasting all over Ireland. On the first Sunday of August, it’s common for locals to visit locations where fraughans flourish to collect and eat all they can. The day is known as Fraughan Sunday, also known as Garland Sunday, and coincides with the ancient Celtic celebration, Lughnasa, one of the four significant “cross-quarter days” that occur around the midpoint between solstice and equinox.
Fraughan Sunday was celebrated by playing games in court, eating, and eating wild fraughans, which were thriving within the mountain ranges. Today, picking fraughans and deciding which is the best way to eat all of them is the primary goal during the week.
In the areas where fraughans thrive, the cultivated blueberries succeed best. Despite this, only two blueberry farms commercially are operating on Ireland’s island. Ireland as well. Derry Duff Farm is one of the two. High over on the Bantry peninsula in West Cork, the farm is run and owned by Dr. Steve Collins and his wife Claire, who purchased the farm 18 years ago and set up an organic blueberry farm.
The Collins originating from the UK were unaware of Irish customs of Fraughan Sunday, or that fraughans were being cultivated in isolated spots along the edges of Derry Duff Farm. Their decision to acquire blueberries was based solely on the fact that at high altitudes and with acidic soils, nothing else could be grown as an economically viable crop.
The berry can be found in the boggy hillsides of Ireland in the summer months. The summer (credit: Kate Ryan)
“I spent a lot of my holidays in County Kerry, but never came across fraughans over there,” explained Claire. “I knew nothing until we came here, then, when we started to grow blueberries, people would refer to them. A lot of people have said they remember picking wild fraughans. A friend, a keen gardener, was walking the farm one day and spotted some fraughan bushes growing close to the blueberry fields, nestled into one of the old ancient walls.”
The Collins’ closest neighbor, Peggy Cronin, lives on her farm that borders Derry Duff. At 70, she was raised in this secluded area within West Cork and remembers a different way of living.
“She told us stories of walking to school over the mountains, coming home and harvesting vegetables or digging potatoes for dinner, and sitting to do homework by candlelight – it was a totally different time,” explained Claire. Cronin is fondly reminiscing about picking fraughans at the time of harvesting hay. “As children, they’d sneak off with a basin and fill it with berries. It was a great treat,” Claire said. Claire.
Very few berries returned to the home because the temptation to eat whatever you wished was too tempting. The ones that did make their way back were transformed into a simple snack with sugar and cream. Many people who like to forage in Afghans continue to enjoy them in this manner as an occasional treat during the peak of their season.
Unfortunately, there are more fraught trees today because hedgerows are being cleared to create more open space for grazing. It is legal to remove over 500m worth of hedgerows across Ireland without the oversight of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; however, the damage is significant, and the remaining hedgerows are never healthy and sustainable ecosystems.
As a native plant, Fraughans are ideal hedgerow plants, particularly in acidic soil areas where nothing else can flourish. Their dense, compact structure makes a perfect habitat for insects, birds, and other mammals. The flowers are a food source for bees, and the fruits are an ideal food source for wild birds.
As hedgerows get destroyed or cleared and cleared, the likelihood of a harvest from the Vaughan is less every year. The annual celebration that falls on Fraughan Sunday is celebrated in a handful of places in the present, and its popularity is based on the resurgence of enthusiasm for the old Celtic festival of the cross quarters.
On Derry Duff Farm, the first of the 13 varieties of blueberries is set to be harvested in the second quarter of July, and the harvest will continue until October. Contrastingly, the shorter fruiting period for fraughans arrives and ends in just four weeks – provided that birds arrive later. Of course.