Shetlanders’ love of a good tattie is helping fund a British sportsman’s bid for medal glory at next year’s London Olympics. In the northern half of the islands hundreds of fans of a mealy Rooster have already caught on to the delights of David Corrigall’s potatoes from his Orkney farm.
Keen readers of The Shetland Times classifieds will have spotted his small ad recently, advertising visits to farmers’ markets from Unst to Tingwall where he sells them by the bag from his battered white van.
A larger-than-life character with possibly the loudest voice in the whole Northern Isles, Mr Corrigall is on a mission and doesn’t let artificial hips hinder him from humping half-hundredweight bags of Roosters around in the ice and snow.
All the money from tattie sales is going into a fund for his giant son, Sean, who is fighting for a place in the GB senior rowing team in the Olympics, having become Scottish indoor champion earlier this year.
The 22-year-old is currently based at the prestigious Molesey Rowing Club on the Thames in London. He has been relying on club boats to practise with but has been told he needs to get his own, at a cost of £10,000, to suit his towering six-foot nine-inch frame.
He is keen to avoid getting tied down by long-term sponsorship companies with English-based companies and hopes instead to find sponsorship from firms in Orkney, and possibly Shetland. It is a tall order because he also needs money to live on so he can concentrate on his 40-hours-a-week training instead of his job as a “man with a van”.
If he succeeds in getting his boat built by April he intends naming it The Viking of the North, in-keeping with his home and his nickname among fellow rowers.
Sean has his own fund-raising website at www.seancorrigall.co.uk and donations can also be made through his sister Moira in Orkney on 01856 877137.
His dad reckons he might be able to raise all the boat money from his tatties, if he can sell the 100 tonnes he has in his store. But he needs to find another £300 a week for Sean’s living expenses.
This week he banked £700 towards the boat fund from Unst and Yell, waxing lyrical about the wonderful homemade jam and chutney he takes back to his family in Orkney from the Unst farmers’ market.
He reckons 90 per cent of his crop is selling in Shetland and he has been amazed by local folk’s dedication to the humble tattie. “People in Shetland value potatoes,” he said. “All the folk in Unst said these are the best potatoes they’ve ever had. That’s no a lie, although you would think it’s a total exaggeration.”
That lofty claim would no doubt be disputed by every planter in Shetland from the smallest to the big commercial Ness boys. He reckoned word had got around in Unst after selling five bags three weeks ago so that this time 24 bags went. “All the people had telt their friends and they came back for more too,” he said.
This was his fourth trip to Shetland with produce this year. But the crofting community will already be familiar with his face and his money over the past five years since he started buying up pure Shetland sheep, which he thinks are wonderful – even if the Orkney farmers scoff.
“They laugh at Shetland sheep but I’ll tell you right now that Shetland sheep are amazing sheep,” he said. He finds them cheap to feed over winter, producing good lambs and being “fantastic milkers”.
“I find that you can keep two Shetland ewes to one Cheviot. But when they have lambs you can hardly tell which is which. There’s nobody else in Orkney keeps them and they laugh at me but I couldn’t care because I made a fortune out of them last year.”
He fattens the lambs and puts ewes to the ram before selling them on with lamb at foot. He said he was getting £75 for a ewe with single lamb at Kirkwall mart and £100 for a ewe with twins, having spent on average just £10 buying the ewes in Shetland.
Controversially, he reckons local crofters sometimes get a raw deal, letting their sheep go for £10 or £20 when they were worth up to £60 or £70. At the last sale in November he said they were going at an average of £10 a head due to the lack of buyers.
“It was a total disgrace,” he said. “I’m sad for the people who are selling them. It’s no right to be selling sheep at half their market value.”
And with that he was back off to his tattie van to try to fulfil his son’s Olympic dream.