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Travels in County Clare 1534 - 1911
(extracts from The Strangers Gaze, edited by Brían Ó Dálaigh)

James Caird, Potential of Farming in County Clare, 1849

James Caird, author and agriculturist, had a distinguished public career. A native of Stranraer, Scotland, he was educated at the university of Edinburgh but left without taking a degree. He learned about practical farming in England and subsequently managed farms in Scotland. An ardent free trader he published the treatise High Farming As The Best Substitute for Protection. This brought him to the attention of prime minister Robert Peel, who commissioned him to do an agricultural survey of the south and west of Ireland in the autumn of 1849. The report, published in 1850, was favourable to the future potential of Irish agriculture and led to the investment of large sums of English capital in Irish land. Appointed to inquire into the distressed state of farming in England, Caird published English Agriculture 1850-51, the most comprehensive review of English farming since the eighteenth century; this earned him an international reputation. Entering parliament in 1857, he was chiefly concerned with agricultural issues. He advocated the importation of cotton from India during the American Civil War 1861-66 and revisiting Ireland in 1869 he published a pamphlet entitled The Irish Land Question. Appointed president of the Statistical Society in 1880 and privy councillor in 1889, he died aged seventy six in 1892.

Caird toured Clare after the worst ravages of famine in October 1849. No mention, however, is made of starvation or social conditions. He viewed the landscape with the cold eye of a practical farmer, calculating input costs and potential returns on capital. His detached account of the county's agricultural potential reminds one of an estate agent describing the attributes of property about to be sold. Like Arthur Young before him, it is the rich alluvial lands along the Fergus and Shannon estuaries that he singles out for particular praise.

Proceeding southwards from Galway, after passing Oranmore, the land continues for many miles of the same character, dry light land on a limestone rock or gravel. In some places the rock covers the ground to a very injurious extent. Within a few miles of Gort, the country improves, and some very good sheep-pastures and corn-lands are found here. Gort is a clean, well-built town. Soon after leaving it the fields become more bleak, until crossing into the county of Clare, where good grass-lands are passed through. The cultivated land along the road is everywhere badly managed. A tract of uninteresting, stony, limestone country is then traversed; the fields becoming more open again as we approach Ennis, the chief town of the county. This town is of considerable extent, and is prettily situated on the river Fergus, which is navigable to this point, by large boats, from the Shannon. The streets seemed narrow and old-fashioned, but there are many good shops in the town. A fine suite of new county buildings are just being completed, which will contribute much to the ornament of the place, though, if payable from the grand-jury cess, it may be doubted whether it was prudent at present to proceed on such a costly scale.

Proceeding southwards from Ennis, the country improves. The road crosses the Fergus at Clare, to which town the river is navigable by large vessels. Along both banks of this river to its junction with the Shannon, being a distance of eight or ten miles on each side, are fine tracts of rich alluvial land, called ‘corcases,’ which yielded very high rents before the famine. These rich flats are banked off from the inroads of the tide, being in many places under high-water mark of spring-tides. Where they have been left in their natural state, they are exceedingly fertile, producing heavy crops of hay year after year, or carrying large stocks of sheep and cattle. They have been generally let in farms of considerable extent, and £3 10s. per Irish acre, besides grand-jury cess, etc., was no uncommon rent for a large farm. The custom of the tenants was to sublet certain portions to the farmers of the upper country for meadow, at rents varying from £6 to £8 an acre; and being fettered by no restrictions in their management, other parts were con-acred for potatoes at even greater rents, the tenant afterwards putting in the grain crop, and frequently selling it, with the straw, before cutting. In this way the actual tenant employed almost no labourers; and the resources of the farmers in the upper country failing with the potato failure, they were unable to take meadow, while the labouring class, of course, for the same cause, ceased to con-acre. The tenant, thrown on his own resources, had neither capital nor skill to meet this new order of things, and the distress and abandonment of farms is accordingly as great on some of these naturally rich lands as on the poorest. The land which had been con-acred is reverting to grass; but any farmer who has ever been accustomed to strong alluvial land, may guess to what a foul state it has been reduced by this most negligent and injudicious management. One acre of land so con-acred, and now reverting to grass, is not one-fourth the value, at this moment, of the land alongside of it, on which the rich old sward has remained unbroken. I am not partial to stringent covenants between landlord and tenant as to tillage, but there is not a point on which, in my opinion, landlords should be more strict than in guarding against the spoilation of their property, by the breaking up of these rich alluvial meadow-lands for a few years’ temporary gain. No skilful tenant would wish to see it done.

Dromoland Castle, the residence of Sir Lucius O’Brien, lord-lieutenant of the county of Clare, is finely situated in an extensive park, a few miles south of Ennis, and about a mile to the east of the river Fergus. It is a very extensive and imposing mansion in the castellated form, built of dressed limestone in courses, massive and substantial. To the left of the mansion is a lake of considerable extent; and on a lower level, in the rear, are the stables and farm-buildings, commodious and well arranged, and hid from view by the overhanging woods; while, farther up, the extensive gardens are seen in successive terraces, crowned by a very picturesque cottage under the trees at the summit.

On 22d October I accompanied Sir Lucius in a walk over five or six of his farms in the neighbourhood of the castle. Two of these farms have excellent houses and farm-buildings, and are beautifully situated on the rich slopes overlooking the Fergus and the lower Shannon. They each possess a considerable tract of these rich ‘corcase’ lands, attached to fine dry arable land, gently sloping up from them. All these farms are situated within a short distance of water-carriage on the Shannon, and about twelve miles from the city of Limerick. When left in its natural state, the land immediately rising from these flats is of the richest feeding quality - a deep, black, earthy soil - dry, and admirably adapted for grazing or green crops. One or two excellent farms are to be let here, which are well worth the examination of farmers.

On the opposite side of the Fergus is the farm of Island Magrath, which by many is considered one of the best farms in Ireland. It is extensive - between 300 and 400 Irish acres - and is at present to be let at a moderate rent; it is said, for something under 20s. an English acre. It is the property of the Marquis of Conyngham.

From the river Fergus, along the north bank of the Shannon to Limerick, the country is all of this naturally fertile character. Passing the old ruined castle of Bunratty, which is beautifully situated close to the waters of the Shannon, the road traverses a very rich country. At Cratloe, four miles west of Limerick, the residence of Mr Augustus Stafford, M.P., which I subsequently visited, I learned from a respectable farmer, and a man of intelligence, that the usual mode of management in this country, is to keep all the tillage-land in a constant succession of crops, and the land which is required for stock always in grass. The course followed is to take -

1. Green crop. 2. Green crop.


Oats or barley.

Oats or barley.


then begin again, and so repeat the course: 300 stones of wheat to the Irish acre, equal to 70 imperial bushels, and 300 to 400 stones of barley, equal to 80 to 100 bushels, are said to be no uncommon crops. These are equivalents to 43 bushels of wheat, and 56 to 65 bushels of barley, per English acre, and must be regarded, under the present mode of management, as indicating a soil of the highest fertility. Rents are falling rapidly in this quarter: one farm of fine quality, which used let at £2 10s., is now offered at £1 5s. an Irish acre. Another of 300 acres, principally fine old grass, let to a dairy farmer at nine hundred guineas, has lately been reduced to six hundred.

Leaving Dromoland on 23d October, I proceeded eastward to Kiltanon, near Tulla, the residence of Mr Molony, which I reached in time to walk over part of his estate with him in the forenoon. He has judiciously improved some extent of bog-land, on which there was then growing a very luxuriant crop of swedes, white carrot, mangold, and cabbages. The swedes, indeed, were over-luxuriant, many of them having rotted. This may, perhaps, be attributed to over-manuring, causing a too rapid development of the plant in a bog soil, which had not been previously rendered sound by a sufficient admixture of sand or gravel. In the afternoon I accompanied two extensive north-country farmers over a different part of the estate, where were excellent crops of turnips, and large fields of well laid-out and well sheltered pastures. These gentlemen have been farming extensively in this part of the country for some years back. They complained much of bad times, high rents and rates, and the difficulty of getting landlords to reduce rents, in any case where the tenant was solvent. They suffered much also from the thievish and indolent habits of the people, the sums paid by them for watching their crops and sheep stock amounting to a considerable tax on the produce. They also complained of the wasteful management of the elected poor-law guardians, who were often partners in the contracts for supplying the workhouses. They spoke highly, however, of the natural fertility of the soil, and the prospects of tenants of capital coming to the country and locating themselves judiciously. For such, they think, there is at present an excellent opening, as landlords are prepared to submit to lower rents, and definite arrangements could be made with them as to a limitation of poor-rates and grand-jury cess.

The fears entertained by the more intelligent class of farmers as to the injury they are likely to suffer from the progressive increase of rates, are illustrated by the case of a tenant, on whose farm I was to-day, and which is now to be let. This man came to the country thirteen years ago, with not more than £100 of capital. His landlord lent him £300, and with this he contrived to stock and carry on a farm of 300 acres. He was very skilful in the management of sheep-stock, and introduced the best rams from England, with which he improved his own stock, and then sold their produce at high prices in the surrounding country. So well did this succeed, that in a few years he repaid his landlord the borrowed money, besides, at the same time, greatly increasing the numbers and quality of his farm-stock. The frightful increase of rates, with diminished prices of produce, alarmed him: he found the capital which he had accumulated by skill and industry slipping away; he could not get what he considered an adequate abatement of rent from his landlord, though the increase in his rates amounted to nearly a second rent; so, availing himself of the power of surrender, which is fortunately a clause introduced into most Irish leases, he determined to sell all off, and quit the country for New Zealand. After paying all his debt, he has retired with a capital of £1000, and his farm is abandoned to the landlord, who is now anxious to get a solvent tenant at a lower rent than, I am assured, this man would have gladly paid, and remained in the country. But how much does this single example teach! First, that the soil yields a grateful return to industry and skill; second, that these are marred by the impolicy of placing the pressure of the rates exclusively on the tenant, (which is unhappily the law in Ireland,) thereby driving out of the country a prosperous, skilful farmer, whose example was of the utmost benefit in a district where these qualities are so deficient, but who felt himself compelled to remove his capital from the danger in which it stood of being absorbed in the general poverty of the country and third, the short-sighted policy of the landlord, (too common, I lament to say, and mainly to be attributed to a want of that knowledge of the proper business of a landlord, to which I have already had occasion to refer,) in refusing to share the difficulties of the times with his tenant, because he was a solvent man, - and the natural consequence of this in disgusting the tenant, who then abandoned the farm, for which its owner cannot now get a solvent tenant at the greatly reduced rent he is at length willing to accept for it.

In the neighbourhood of Tulla there are some good farms to be let, sound sheep-land, on the estate of Mr Molony of Kiltanon. I passed several of the roads to-day on which improvements had been begun, but never completed, at the time of the famine. Several of these had been left in a state which rendered them actually dangerous to the traveller, and others were quite useless to anybody.

From Tulla to Scariff and Lough Derg, the land is of various quality. Behind Scariff it rises to a considerable elevation, innumerable little patches of cultivation stretching up the mountain side, and encouraging the growth of a population which nothing but potato culture could keep in existence from the produce of such a soil as that on which they were located. The consequence has been a mass of pauperism, now overspreading the better part of the surrounding country, and threatening eventually to absorb the entire produce of the land embraced in this union.

The banks of Lough Derg are generally fertile and picturesque, there being many very eligible estates and farms in the extensive district between Portumna and Killaloe. A steamer plies regularly on the lake. From Tomgraney the road passes over a comparatively elevated district, between which and the Lough lies much improvable land, which is at present in a very neglected state. Descending the hill near Tinerana, the eye rests with pleasure on the neatly laid out and well-cultivated fields, interspersed with the woods, surrounding the mansion-house of that name, and stretching down to the margin of the lake. Winding along its shores, the road affords many beautiful views to the traveller of the fertile lands of Tipperary, rising from the opposite side of the lake, up the green slopes of the Arra mountains, beyond which may be also seen the tops of the Silvermine and Keeper. Near Killaloe stands an old fort, beautifully situated on a green mound commanding the entrance into Lough Derg, which is here gradually narrowed into the bed of the Shannon.

Proceeding southwards from Killaloe, the land on the road-side is generally inferior as far as O’Brien’s Bridge, where, crossing the broad and beautiful river, you enter the county of Limerick. Along this fertile valley, the country is now rich and well wooded; the frowning ruins of ancient castles, and the ‘shining morning face’ of modern mansions, equally bespeaking the good taste of their founders in their choice of a situation. Passing the demesne of Lord Clare, whose umbrageous woods shut out the river altogether, and proceeding a mile or two farther along fields of deep red friable soil, you reach the suburbs of the city of Limerick, where those who are curious in such matters may have an opportunity of inspecting, by dozens, some of the poorest and most wretched cottages in Ireland.

My time was too limited to admit of my visiting the western portion of the county of Clare, where I was informed that at Miltown Malbay very extensive and judicious improvements are going on. The district round Corofin, to the north-west of Ennis, is famed for its rich pastures. The south-west division, embracing the union of Kilrush, noted for its evictions and its poverty, is situated on the coal formation, (not usually favourable for agricultural enterprise;) but the whole of the north bank of the Shannon, from Limerick to Kilrush, is well worth the inspection of persons in quest of land.

Taken from James Caird, The Plantation Scheme, or the West of Ireland as a Field for Investment (Edinburgh 1850), pp 60-70.

Destitution, 1849
Rev S. Godolphin Osborne


Letters from Clare, 1852
Harriet Martineau