+3531 6313822 nationalich@chg.gov.ie

Loy Digging

Location At local and national ploughing championships in Ireland
Categories Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
Keywords Farming, ploughing, tools
Contact organisation Loy Association of Ireland

The loy is an historic digging tool used to till soil. Although its use in farming has been superseded, it continues in use today as part of a heritage sport of loy digging, where competitors turn over a marked patch of ground using the traditional tool.

Background information

Up to the end of the 19th century most land was tilled by hand with the use of the loy or similar tools. In some of the southern counties, the loy was known as a fack (irieac). There is much evidence in many of our fields with tracks and ridges of bygone days both for grain and potatoes. Spade ridges from beneath the blanket bogs in North Mayo’s Céide Fields date back over 4,000 years to the Bronze Age.

Re-enactment of historic potato planting using the loy have found that the plough was much inferior for good tillage. There is an account of farmers, on the more fertile lands of Tipperary & Kilkenny who found it more economical, taking labour costs and crop return into consideration to till the big fields with the loy or fack rather than the plough. Of course the plough is much improved since then in design.

Every area had its own design of the loy depending on the soil conditions. The loy used by the Loy Association today is of the north midlands (Leitrim, Cavan & Longford) or any area with similar soil conditions. Its design is for heavy drumlin soils, with a long narrow iron mounted on a long handle with a deep heel for leverage. All these loys are one-sided to suit a left or a right foot.

Practice and practitioners

This tradition is practiced as a heritage sport competition at the National Ploughing Championships. In order to qualify for the All Ireland Competition competitors must compete at their own county’s County Ploughing Competitions. Approximately 40 people, male and female, compete each year at the National Ploughing Championships.

Development, transmission and safeguarding

The Loy Association was founded in 1992 to:

  • foster the tradition of using the loy to turn the sod
  • let people know the sort of spade that was used before the introduction of the factory spade in 1750
  • show young people and future generations how food was produced in the past
  • hold competitions in loy digging to demonstrate the skill involved in this ancient art
  • popularise loy digging across the 32 Counties of Ireland

The Loy Association of Ireland was founded with the goal of fostering this ancient craft which has almost become extinct. It is now a major attraction at the National Ploughing Championships and drawing much interest from abroad. In 1988 there was only one county (Leitrim) with two competitors hosting Loy Digging Competitions. Now there are over 10 counties participating.

Contact organisation

Loy Association of Ireland