Seaweed as Fertiliser

Another feature of local winter and spring scene in those days was the carts drawing woar, as seaweed was called (incidentally this is a corruption of a Norman French word voar).

It was quite usual for carts from Rush to go through the dark streets at six on winter mornings to start working at daylight and they would return loaded six hours or so later. There would be up to 15 or 20 horses and carts sometimes. With two men to each cart, there was about six hours available to cut the loads. As the woar or seaweed was only cuttable, sizewise, from about the half tide mark, there was just the six hour spell as the tide ebbed and flowed between half tide – low water and back.

There were and still are well defined cart tracks through all the rocky shore between Skerries and Balbriggan and it was amazing how sure footed horses were in drawing carts through them.

They had of course to be driven with reins from the cart as it was not possible for a man to walk and lead them. The woar was cut by a sickle shaped knife specially made by the local blacksmith, perferably from an old file. Full loads could not be brought through the rocks, only part loads known as bankers and four bankers made a good load. As well as woar cut from the rocks known as cut woar there was also woar washed in after storms – wrack woar.

There were rigid rules about harvesting this, which meant that it could only be done close to high tide. As the seaweed was washed in by the tide the men would put it into small heaps with gevels. This was marking and meant that no one would load it except its marker but if the sea came round the heaps before carting then it became free for anybody to mark again.

It can be appreciated that a man could mark seaweed far quicker than he could load it on a cart so that it was a race to mark as much as possible close to the high water mark and cart it later. Another thing was that on Sunday nights when the tide and winds suited, it was the custom that one would not start marking woar before twelve midnight but this was sometimes not fully observed and I have known of over enthusiastic people who started before twelve, thus stealing a march on their more conscientious neighbours.

One sidelight of interest on this activity was the fact that the Landlord had to be paid one shilling a load on all seaweed taken from the shore, stretching from the back of the Harbour to Lane farm and including the islands. Seaweed from Church and Colt Islands was collected by row boat but horse carts could be used to draw from Shennick between tides.

Christy Fox (SHS, 1973)