Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment
CCEA Curriculum Monitoring Programme 2018-19

Background and theme

Background details

The poem dates from the late 1960s, when farming methods in Ireland still relied largely on manual labour. Just as in 19th century Ireland, many people’s lives depended on a single crop.

What the poem is about

Heaney explores man’s relationship with the land. The poem depicts the digging and gathering in of the potato crop. Heaney suggests that the Irish labourers have a superstitious fear of the nature god (‘the famine god’) whom they appease with their offerings.