The Arran Pioneer Project has been busy planting potatoes over the last week or two at various sites across the island. One of the varieties that has been planted is the Arran Victory, originally bred by Donald McKelvie, previously of Lamlash. The seed potatoes for this year were not bred on the island, hopefully might be in the future!
Here are some photos of the recent potato planting in the community gardens in Brodick and Lamlash. Below is a little bit of information about Donald McKelvie. Featured image shows Donald McKelvie. Credit: North Ayrshire Heritage and Cultural Services.
Donald McKelvie, was born in Lamlash on the Isle of Arran. Donald was a renowned potato breeder and the “Maris Piper” was bred from his “Arran Cairn” potato.
His father was Neil McKelvie, a sea captain and his mother was Mary McNeish. Donald trained as an accountant in Glasgow but returned to Arran in 1894 to run the family business. D McNeish & Son had been established by his grandparents and had a bakery, grocery and dairy. The business operated from what is now the Co-op building in Lamlash.
Whilst living in Claveron, Lamlash in 1907, Donald became interested in horticulture. He built greenhouses and started to raise and select thousands of seedlings. His “tattie fields” were where the High School sits now. His crop included “Arran Pilot”, “Arran Banner”, “Arran Victory”, “Arran Chief” and “Arran Cairn”, some of which were Lord Derby gold medal winners. It is from the “Arran Cairn” that the famous “Maris Piper” potato was developed. He also raised potatoes which were immune to wart disease which was a serious issue in the early 1900s.
In January 1943 Donald received an OBE “for services in the breeding of new potato types” and is mentioned in the London Gazette.
There is an exhibition in his honour in the Arran Heritage Museum in Brodick and McKelvie Road in Lamlash is named after him.
There is also a “Blue Plaque” dedicated to him on the wall of the Co-op in Lamlash. It should also be mentioned that he was a renowned breeder of Highland Ponies too.
Donald died at home in Lamlash in March 1947 aged 80 years old.
Information from the North Ayrshire Heritage and Cultural Services