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Irish company hits pay dirt flogging soil to Americans

A small Dublin-based company is making a fortune selling old-fashioned dirt.

When the Auld Sod Exporting Company started trading several years ago, the idea of selling bags of native soil to nostalgic Americans was scoffed at.

However, customers are far from novelty-seekers wishing for something on the mantelpiece to remind them of their heritage, but rather people who wish to be buried on Irish soil, or at least a little bit of it.

The amazing idea took off five years ago when Tipperary-based Pat Burke attended a funeral in America. "Pat Burke was regularly asked by a family friend to bring a piece of the auld sod over to America for him to sprinkle on the caskets of recently departed loved ones; which is quite a tradition in the States," explains managing director John Beckett.

Out of an old and important Irish-American tradition arose an unusual business opportunity. In due course when funeral directors heard about The Auld Sod Trading Company's unusual exports they started placing regular orders for bags of Irish soil as part of their range of services.

However, it wasn't all plain sailing; the US Department of Agriculture was wary of foreign soil microbes being imported into the United States.

This hurdle necessitated the rigorous sanitising of the soil before the US would grant an importation licence: "We have a specially patented process for cleansing the soil and we are now the only people in the world who can export Irish soil to the USA. The soil, which is sourced in Tipperary, is dark brown, feels really nice and smells beautiful," explains Beckett.

Apart from funerals, the soil is used for sprinkling on the foundations of a new house or more unusually as wedding confetti.

The product, which comes in a presentation canister, contains 1lb of soil and retails for $15 (€11.50). So far the company has exported tens of thousands of canisters to the USA and Canada.

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