Agricultural scientist Pat Burke, 28, and Alan Jenkins have built a thriving business out of selling pieces of Irish earth – or as they call it, “Official Irish Dirt” – and sending it to America.
Burke explains, “We got calls from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA to do interviews, and the first shipment had only gone out a week ago. It’s such a simple idea, even the girl in the U.S. Patents Office said so, and it was the first time it had ever been done. Everyone laughed at the idea of bottled water in Ireland 10 years ago, and now it outsells almost everything.”
It was Jenkins who first came up with the idea. He lived in Maine for many years, and on a visit to see friends in Florida heard some Irish-Americans at a “Sons of Erin” meeting saying they would “give their left arm for a drop of the auld sod” to be placed on their funeral caskets.
Soon after he met Burke, who worked at the Irish Department of Agriculture, and a plan was hatched.
“It was early in February 2006 when we found a solution to the problem of the dirt,” relays Burke, “and when we called the U.S. Department of Agriculture about it, he was laughing down the phone.”
The problem was that U.S. Customs regulations insisted the “funeral use” dirt be free of disease and insects, so Burke put his Agricultural Science degree from University College Dublin to good use, eventually finding a way to process the soil so that it would pass the tests with flying colors. Since then, Jenkins and Burke have been inundated with inquiries.
Of course, many people feel that no piece of auld sod is complete without that most Irish of things, a shamrock, so you can also order a packet of seeds so you can grow your own luck – and that’s just the beginning. There have been some unusual requests too, including one from an elderly New York businessman who wanted to be fully buried in Irish soil, deep in the heart of his beloved Manhattan.
It seems that many Irish-Americans still have a sentimental feeling for their roots, even if they have spent decades living abroad.
“Maybe it’s something to do with Ireland being so rural,” shares Burke. “People just love the land. But the more you sit back and think about it, the more you realize where this could go. It’s more than just St Patrick’s Day and Christmas; it’s all year round. Brides are looking to use the shamrocks for bouquets or buttonholes at weddings, even as centerpieces on the table!”
Death at a Funeral will be available Feb. 26. For more information, visit www.officialirishdirt.com.