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in County Clare 1534 - 1911
Arthur Young, An Agriculturalist’s Account of Clare, September 1776
Arthur Young, agriculturalist and travel writer, was already famous when he came to Ireland in June of 1776, having established his reputation with Farmers’ Letters to the People of England (1767) and Political Arithmetic (1774). In Ireland he visited twenty nine of the thirty two counties and travelled some 1,500 miles. Being principally concerned with the social and economic consequences attendant on the practice of agriculture, he had little interest in Irish antiquities or topography. Young was a gifted social observer and an insatiable recorder of facts and figures. He gathered his information though, not from farmers or agricultural workers but from the Protestant landlords, who were in possession of nine tenths of Ireland’s land surface. Nevertheless he had a natural sympathy for the rural poor and praised their cheerfulness and the liveliness of their music and dance. He was shocked at the rapaciousness of landlords and roundly condemned the humiliation and economic exploitation of their tenantry. Consequently he was much quoted by nationalist writers in the nineteenth century. While Young was an experimenter and innovator in agriculture, as a practising farmer he was a failure. In 1777 he was appointed resident agent on Lord Kingsborough’s estate, Mitchelstown, County Cork; his fourth venture into practical agriculture, but he resigned within the year and returned to England.
Young’s description of farming in County Clare is not reflective of the county as a whole. He focuses on the fertile meadowlands along the Fergus and Shannon estuaries in the south east of the county. The farming culture and high yields of these areas were untypical of the agriculture of the rest of the county. While in Clare, Young lodged with Sir Lucius O’Brien of Dromoland, the largest and most prosperous landowner in the county. He also communicated with two neighbouring landlords, Mr Fitzgerald of Shepperton, and Mr Singleton of Ballgireen House. Young confirms what Chief Baron Willes had previously recorded in 1761, that this part of Clare had an established reputation for the production of cider. Clare cider was noted for its deep green colour, hence the name by which it was known, Cagogee (cach an ghé, goose excrement). Arthur Young’s achievement in his Tour in Ireland 1776-78 has never been equalled, it is a classic of its type. The tour was one of the unacknowledged sources used by Hely Dutton in his Statistical Survey of the county of Clare (1808), and even today may still be read with profit by aspiring agriculturalists.
September 5th , to Drummoland, the seat of Sir Lucius O’Brien, in the county of Clare, a gentleman who had been repeatedly assiduous to procure me every sort of information. I should remark, as I have now left Galway, that county, from entering it in the road to Tuam till leaving it to-day, has been, upon the whole, inferior to most of the parts I have travelled in Ireland in point of beauty: there are not mountains of a magnitude to make the view striking. It is perfectly free from woods, and even trees, except about gentlemen’s houses, nor has it a variety in its face. I do not, however, speak without exception; I passed some tracts which are cheerful. Drummoland has a pleasing variety of grounds about the house; it stands on a hill gently rising from a lake of 24 acres, in the middle of a noble wood of oak, ash, poplar, etc. three beautiful hills rise above it, over which the plantations spread in a varied manner; and these hills command very fine views of the great rivers Fergus and Shannon at their junction, being each of them a league wide. For the following particulars I am indebted to Sir Lucius O’Brien.
Average rent of the county of Clare, 5s. The bad tracts of land in the county, are the east mountains, part of the Barony of Burrin, and the great peninsula, which forms the north shore of the Shannon. Great tracts are let at nothing at all, but there are 20,000 acres from Paradise hill, along the Fergus and Shannon to Limerick, which let at 20s. an acre. These lands are called the corcasses. The soil of them is either a rich black loam, or a deep rich blue clay; and all the higher lands are lime-stone, or lime-stone gravel. The mountains are generally grit-stone. The size of farms is various. Captain Tim. Macnamara farms 7,000 acres, but part in other counties. Mr Singleton, 4,000 acres. A farm of £300 a year is a very small one; £500 a year middling; this is speaking of stock-farms. The tillage of the country is carried on by little farmers, from £20 to £100 a year; but most of it by the poor labourers, who are generally under-tenants, not holding of the landlords. The courses of crops are,
1. Potatoes. 2. Bere. 3. Wheat. 4. Oats. 5. Oats. 6.
Oats. 7. Lay it out to grass.
Of wheat they sow 10 to 15 stone an acre; the crop, in the corcass grounds, 8 barrels, in the other lands 5 or 6; 20 stone to the barrel. Potatoes they measure by the barrel of 48 stone: they plant 6 to the acre, and the average produce 50 barrels. They never plant them on the corcass lands, for they will not grow there. Mr Fitzgerald, of Shepperton, has had 100 barrels per acre; the favourite sorts are the apple, the Castania, the Buck, being a species of the Howard. They fat pigs on them; but, what much amazed me, was fattening hogs on grass, which they do very generally, and make them as fat as a bullock, but put them up to beans for three weeks to harden the fat. Of barley they sow 14 stone an acre, and get six barrels, at 32 stone each. Bere, two rowed barley, called English here, and four rowed, called Dutch, and of these the bere yields best. Mr Singleton has had 40 barrels of bere per acre, each 16 stone on the corcass land. Of oats they sow 21 stone to the acre, and get 12 barrels, on an average 14 stone each; and on the corcass land 16. Of beans they sow 35 stone to the acre, sow them on the green sod soon after Christmas, and plough them in; never hand-hoe or weed them: the average crop 20 barrels, at 20 stone; 30 the greatest; they are used for home consumption in dear years, and for exportation in cheap. The poor people make bread of them, and eat them boiled, and they prefer a bushel of them to a bushel of wheat; but they will not eat them, except in a scarcity. No peas sown, but rape in considerable quantities in mountain grounds, or boggy, both of which are burnt for it. They plough the furrow very shallow, and burn it: they never feed it. The crop of seed 8 barrels, at 16 ft. at from 7s. 6d. to 18s. a barrel, generally from 14s. to 17s. It is pressed into oil at the mills of Six Mile Bridge and Scariff, near Killaloe; but the greatest part is bought up by the merchants of Limerick for exportation for Holland, and last year some part of it had been sent to Great Britain, in consequence of the Act which passed last sessions. The rape cakes are all exported to England for manure: the price of them at 45s. or 42s. per ton. The rape and the bean straw are burnt to ashes for the soap boilers; and Mr Singleton has a kiln contrived on purpose for burning lime with it, collecting the ashes at the same time that the lime is burnt. No clover is sown, except by Sir Lucius O’Brien. Flax is sown in small quantities by the poor people for their own consumption; and some yarn sold, but not much from the whole county. Spinning is by no means general; not half the women spin. Some linens, bandle cloths, and Clare dowlas, for exportation in small quantities, and other sorts, enough for home consumption. Wool is spun for clothing for the people, into worsted yarn for serges, and into yarn for stockings. Great quantities of frieze are sold out of the county.
Much heath waste land, many hundreds of acres every year are brought in by paring and burning for rape, but use no manure for it; after that wheat, and get good crops, and then two, three, or four crops of oats, good ones; then left for grass, and comes tolerable herbage, worth 5s. an acre.
The principal grazing system consists in a union of both rearing and fattening; the rearing farms generally at a considerable distance from the rich lands on the Fergus and Shannon. The most profitable management of grazing, is to buy in year-olds upon this system, but it can only be done by hewing a variety of land, commonly at a distance. It is found much more beneficial than buying in bullocks in autumn, and cows in May, as the Meath graziers do.
The average price of the year-olds, is from £2 2s. to £2 10s. and the price sold at four and a half years-olds, weighing 4½ cwt. 4¾, to 5¼ cwt. is on an average at £8. For cows bought in in May, £3 3s. to £3 12s. and sell at £5 10s. An acre of the corcass land will fatten one of these bullocks, but then it must not be winter-fed at all. Sheep, on an average, shear three to a stone of 16 lb. and sell at 1s. per lb. Mr Macnamara sold this year 55 bags, besides his lambs’ wool; the weight is from six hundred to seven and a half, fifty stone, and this year’s price 17s. 6d. a stone. Upon the lime-stone sheep-walks of this county, they keep from one and a half to five; on a average, three. The loss on stock-sheep, bullocks, etc. will not amount to more than one per cent on the value. For hiring and stocking a grazing farm, three rents are reckoned to do. Those bullocks that are to be fattened the summer following, they give hay most part of the winter, for four or five months, as much as they will eat, which will be half an acre of good meadow.
There are 4,000 bullocks fattened annually in the county of Clare; bought in at £6 and sold out at £10 and 3,000 cows, bought in at £3 and sold fat at £5, also 6,000 fat wethers, sold out of the county annually at 20s. each.
This country is famous for cider-orchards, the cakagee especially, which is incomparably fine. An acre of trees yields from four to ten hogsheads per annum, average six, and, what is very uncommon in the cider counties of England, yield a crop every year. I never beheld trees so loaden with apples as in Sir Lucius O’Brien’s orchard; it amazed me that they did not break under the immense load which bowed down the branches. He expected a hogshead a tree from several.
Land sells at twenty years’ purchase. Rents fell in the rearing lands 5s. or 6s. in the pound, but rich lands fell very little. Tithes are compounded by a composition made every year by the piece. Fat bullocks nothing. Sheep, 20s. per hundred. Wheat, 5s. Barley, 3s. Oats, 2s. Potatoes, 10s. Middle men, not common, but much land relet, arising from the long tenures which are given of three lives, etc. The poor live upon potatoes ten months of the year; but, if a mild winter, and a good crop, all the year on them. They keep cows very generally, but not so many as in the list of Sir Lucius’s tenants. Labour is usually paid for with land. Working-days of Roman Catholics may be reckoned 250 in a year, which are paid for with as much land as amounts to about six pounds, and the good and bad master is distinguished by this land being reckoned at a high or a low rent. The state of the poor, on comparison with what they were twenty years ago, is that they are much increased in numbers, and better clad than they were, and more regularly fed, in being freed from those scarcities which were felt before the laws for the increase of tillage. Relative to religion, there was a return to the Committee of Religion, in the House of Commons, in 1765, when the return of Clare was as follows, in five divisions:-
16 to 1, and 404 over.
Lucerne, Sir Lucius cultivated for some years, and found while it was attended to, and kept clean, that it was of great use for horses; but his absence and neglect destroyed it. Relative to smuggling wool from Clare, he gave me several strong reasons for believing that there had not been any for some years; that county is well situated for it, and some ships smuggled brandy and tobacco, and could carry it away with great ease, yet not one goes. Sir Lucius was executor to a man who made a fortune by it twenty-five years ago, but he would never smuggle when above 10s. a stone; I had the same account in Galway. The cause of the high price of wool is the admission of woollen yarn in all the ports of England, and the increased demand in the Manchester fabric for that yarn, which demand would have operated in England as in Ireland, had the cheapness of spinning been equal. Another cause, the increase of population, and the people being better clad. Sending a pound of wool to France, smugglers compute to be sixpence, which is fifty per cent on the present prime cost. Thus the French could get wool much cheaper from England, where the prime cost is lower. There is none from Cork, for being a manufacturing town, the people would not allow it. A duty of 4d. per stone of 18 lb. on woollen and worsted yarn exported, marks the quantity which Ireland grows beyond its own consumption. Raw wool, two thousand to 10,000 stone, the rest yarn, which is nearly doubled in value by the manufacture. The quantity of broad-cloth and serges, that is, old and new drapery, imported from England, equals the export of woollen yarn. It is remarkable that upon the corcass lands in this county, there are several tools in use, which are called Dutch, a Dutch spade, a Dutch plough, etc.
Sir Lucius O’Brien introduced me to two of the most considerable graziers in the county, Mr Singleton, and Mr Fitzgerald, and rode through a part of their farms. Mr Singleton’s corcass meadows were one continued bed of rushes, till he destroyed them by a method which alone proved effectual, which is digging up the rush, and turning it topsy-turvey into the hole again, this he finds effectually destroys them, and the expense is not so great as might be imagined. This gentleman has more tillage-land than common upon grazing farms; he showed me a haggard, well filled with wheat stacks;
Particulars of some of Sir Lucius O’Brien’s labourers:
seventeen acres of that grain yielded him 196 barrels. Mr Fitzgerald is a very attentive farmer, and in several particulars, conducts his business upon principles different from those which are common in Ireland. He has built excellent farming-offices; particularly a barn, exceedingly well contrived; the corn may be thrown at once from the part of the barn where it is stowed on to two threshing floors, the one over another, and from the stacks through a window into the barn. His hay is also thrown in the same manner, down into the cow-house, and his potatoes into a vault. These conveniences, which are a great saving of labour, are gained by the buildings being raised on the side of a steep hill, cut away for the purpose. His cows he keeps in the house all winter, by which means they are better wintered, and he raises a great quantity of manure. The chaff of his corn crops he saves carefully, which is directly contrary to the country; and what is much more, cuts much hay and straw into chaff, with an engine, which he finds to answer perfectly well; the man works it with one hand, and supplies it with the other, being fixed against the wall.
September the 8th , left Drumoland. Sir Lucius rode with me through Clonmelly, to the hill above Bunratty Castle, for a view of the Shannon. Clonmelly is a division of Drumline parish, 900 acres of corcass land in one lot, which is cheap, at 30s. an acre. I went into some of the pastures, which were stocked with very fine bullocks, at the rate of one to every acre. In this neighbourhood, Mr Hickman has a close of 20 acres, which, when in his own hands, fattened him 2 cows per acre, and in winter fed him 100 wethers, to the improvement of 6s. each. The profit by the cows was £4, and by the sheep £1 10s. per acre: in all £5 5s. I had this fact from his own mouth. The richness of these corcasses, which are flat lands on the river side, that have been gained at different times from the salt water, is very great. When in tillage, they sometimes yield extraordinary crops; 50 stat barrels an acre of bere have been known, sixteen of barley, and from 20 to 24 of oats are common crops. . . .
At the foot of this hill is the Castle of Bunratty, a very large edifice, the seat of the O’Briens, princes of Thomond; it stands on the bank of a river, which falls into the Shannon near it. About this castle, and that of Rosmanagher, the land is the best in the county of Clare; it is worth £1 13s. an acre, and fats a bullock per acre in summer, besides winter feed.
Taken from Arthur Young, A Tour in Ireland; with
general observations on the present state of that kingdom; made in the
years 1776, 1777, and 1778; fourth edition, ed. A.W. Hutton 2 vols
(London 1892, reprinted Shannon 1970) i, pp 284-92.