Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter II - Section 1

Mode of Culture

FORMERLY the preparation for wheat was always a fallow, except near the sea-coast, where the abundance of sea-weed or sea-sand rendered it unnecessary. In some places this wasteful practice still continues; but the great extension of the potatoe culture, and a happy rise in rents, have in some measure assisted the abolition. The example of some, but very few, spirited gentlemen, who cultivate potatoes, clover, vetches, rape, turnips, and other green crops for cattle, will doubtless have every good effect, in shewing the farmers the heavy losses they sustain by unproductive fallows. Very small farmers and cottiers scarcely ever fallow their ground; the usual preparation with them is potatoes manured for, and not unfrequently planted in drills; they are generally succeeded by oats, and too often by several crops of this grain, without the intervention of any green ameliorating crop, until the ground will scarcely return the seed they had sowed. Frequently the course is; 1st, potatoes with manure, or the ground burned; 2d, wheat, sometimes sowed in winter, but oftener in spring; 3d, oats, and then begin the course with manure again, but too often they continue the cultivation of oats.

In many parts of the county, chiefly the eastern and western extremities, where the soil in its present unimproved state is not adapted to wheat, oats is a very general crop, and frequently after manured potatoes, and the cultivation of this grain is continued, until the ground is completely exhausted; in this state it remains for several years, producing little herbage, and of very bad quality, until it has produced a sufficient covering to enable them to burn it again, and the same wretched course is pursued, whilst the agent (perhaps some young lawyer or attorney, totally ignorant of country affairs*) permits his absentee landlord to suffer thus in his receipts; for, at the end of almost every lease, the ground comes into his hands in this impoverished state, and it is by no means uncommon to burn ground four times during a lease of thirty-one years.

Every cottier is perfectly sensible of the great value of manure, and great exertions are every where made to collect it, insomuch that the roads are frequently injured to a great extent: turf-mould spread about their doors, and every hole filled with it during winter, forms a very large share of their manure for potatoes; the usual mode of planting them is, with few exceptions, in beds of about six feet wide, with a trench two or three feet wide, according to the depth of soil; in very shallow soils they are often made much wider, in good soils not more than eighteen inches.

Sometimes moory or boggy ground is burned for this inestimable root, and generally two crops taken; they are almost always succeeded by oats, rape, or flax.

Sometimes barley succeeds potatoes; it is used chiefly in the private stills, which abound in every part of the county, even under the very nose of the magistrates; and some people are impudent enough to say, that they are so used to the smell of putteen whiskey, they do not perceive the stills; and others are still more impudent, who say, that some magistrates keep stills in their concerns. After barley, oats are taken as long as the ground will produce any thing; it is then left to nature for several years, until she, kind nurse, produces as much herbage roots as will enable the repetition of this barbarous system of tillage, especially if the lease is near its expiration. The value of potatoes is so universally known, that few farmers have less than from one to four acres of them, some ten or more. In some parts of the county the ground is manured, and formed into a ridge in the usual way, and the potatoes planted with a long dibble**, that a man thrusts into the ground with his foot, followed by a child or woman, who drops a potatoe into the hole; sometimes the potatoes are dropped at the usual distance on the surface, and put into the hole by the man, who dibbles. Frequently, after manuring the ridges, or the second year after burning, a man makes a deep cut with a spade, which he throws forward, at the same time making an open cut to receive the potatoe set, that he has ready in his hand, from stock usually carried in an apron before him; on drawing out the spade, the cut closes on the set. After both of these methods, the potatoes are second-spitted or shovelled in the usual way; but they are erroneous practices, because the ground is seldom or ever stirred since the previous crop, and it would be less tedious to lay the potatoe-sets at once before planting; yet to a poor cottier it is convenient, for the operations of manuring and throwing up the ridges are performed at a season of more leisure, in winter or too early in spring to plant potatoes with safety, and when his own or his landlord’s hurry of business has not yet commenced. There are always abundant crops of potatoes after a dry spring, as the burning of land (on which nine-tenths of the potatoes of the county are planted) is facilitated, and seldom fails to produce a plentiful return. If a total abolition of this practice was to take place, as some people totally ignorant of rural economy seem to wish, a famine would be the consequence: when better practices amongst farmers are adopted, the production of manure by green crops will render this mode unnecessary. It must be gratifying to hear, that even cottiers are now eager to procure grass-seeds.

Lay ground is frequently skinned with a plough and four horses walking abreast, (a boy walking backwards, and striking the horses in the face to make them advance,) and burned in the summer or autumn; the ashes are always left in heaps, until the potatoe-digging is finished; about the beginning of December they are spread, and wheat sowed, if the weather is favourable, but frequently from wet weather the sowing is deferred until spring. Indeed the greater part of the wheat of the county is sowed in spring; this has been the custom time out of mind, and has caused no little merriment amongst the farmers, when they saw premiums offered by societies for experiments on the cultivation of spring wheat, and equally so on an author’s gravely asserting, that from his experiments he found it would answer, and that he was the first, that had tried it: it shews how little one part of Ireland knows of the practices of the other; this knowledge, if no other good effect arose from the statistical surveys, would be sufficient to obviate those ignorant sneers, that indolent gentlemen are but too apt to indulge themselves in. It was the advice of the celebrated Bakewell, "to see what others were doing;" and, strange as it may sound, the gentlemen of this county would be much benefited by staying less at home. Frequently after a crop of wheat, and one or two of oats, the ground is fallowed, and after the last ploughing in October is again sowed with wheat, trenched in with spades and shovels, and then oats, as long as the ground will give any; after this it lies, as usual, useless for several years.

On the sea-shore great use is made of sea-weed, (algæ) of several species: two successive crops of potatoes are taken, and generally followed by wheat, oats, and barley, and the same course repeated: this has been the practice time immemorial. It very often happens, that a sufficient quantity of this manure is not thrown in previous to the planting season, sometimes from want of time, or the means of bringing it to their land; in this case they plant the potatoes at the usual season, and, according as the weed is thrown in by the tide, it is daily spread on the planted surface, and then covered by a second spit or shovelling, which keeps the weed moist, and causes it to rot. Experiments have been tried to ascertain, whether sea-weed, laid on fresh from the sea, was a better manure than that thrown into large heaps to rot before using; the result has been in favour of the fresh weed. If potatoes are planted early enough on this manure, they are dry and well tasted, but, if late, are apt to be wet and ill tasted. Sea-sand has been used in many places with good effect, particularly by Mr. Morony near Miltown, who spread a small quantity on ground of very inferior quality, which produced so great a crop of grass, as to set for meadow the following summer at seven guineas per acre, and continues to produce a most luxuriant growth of white clover and other valuable plants. It is generally allowed, that this permanent effect is always the consequence of sanding; but that, by sea-weed, does not last longer than two crops, and the soil acquires the appearance and tenacity of clay; but, as they have an abundant and never-failing supply of it, this effect is disregarded. When the two modes can be united, (which fortunately is generally the case) it is reckoned a very superior management.

Mr. Westby, who possesses a considerable tract in the western part of the county, with one or two other proprietors, allowed their tenants for a few years some small premium for sanding their ground; this had the best effects, as the quality of the crops was greatly improved, and the quantity much encreased; and the herbage was so much changed, that, when let out to grass, even after the most barbarous system of deterioration, the ground was covered with white clover and other valuable plants; and from land, that in its original state only starved a few miserable sheep, fat mutton has been since sold in Kilrush market, and large quantities of milk and butter. The premium for sanding has been discontinued for some years past, owing to some impositions practised by the tenants, claiming for more ground than they really manured***.1 The good effects, however, do and will for ever remain; and one would imagine, that so very evident an improvement required no other premium than the superior quality and products. The practice of sanding is chiefly confined to the parishes of Killard, Kilfieragh, Moyferta, and Kilballyhone. In the parish of Kilrush, where manure is easier to be had, and permission to burn the ground is not granted, they manure on the lay, and plant, in the usual way, in ridges; the second year, potatoes without manure; the third year wheat is sowed, and the fourth and fifth years oats; the ground is either manured again, and the same course pursued, or else let out to grass in the usual way without hay-seeds.

A large portion of the tillage of the county is performed by the spade, especially that on the sides of mountains, or amongst rocks; the unevenness of the surface, and too often the pocket not answering for the expence of a plough and horses; and some of the best corn of the country is produced in this laborious and expensive manner. 

It is almost impossible to ascertain the quantity of grain and potatoes produced on an acre; the quality of the soil, and superior or defective management, must always occasion such a great variety of produce. The average produce of potatoes is from twelve to fifteen barrels of one hundred and twenty-eight stone each; of wheat, from five to nine barrels of twenty stone each; of oats, from ten to sixteen barrels of fourteen stone each; of barley, from twelve to sixteen barrels of sixteen stone each. In Tradree the average of wheat is eight barrels; oats, sixteen to eighteen; and of potatoes, thirty-two barrels of sixty stone each to the acre****. 

Great improvements have lately been made, by the introduction of better kinds of grain than had been formerly in cultivation; American wheat, introduced by the Rev. Frederick Blood; white Essex, a most valuable kind, by Messrs. Burton and Fitzgerald, at Clifden; some new and valuable kinds by Sir Edward O’Brien; also potatoe, Poland, and New Holland oats, are now become common in the county*****. Bindon Blood, Esq. introduced a kind from England much superior to any of those, which on his removal from Riverston he left to the person, to whom he set the place; on making enquiries, I found it was purposely given to the fowl! Near Ennis, white wheat is called big wheat, and red lammas in some places is called ball wheat; I found with one small farmer velvet wheat, which he sold at a high price. The quantity of grain sowed per acre varies greatly; in some places only ten stone of wheat are allowed, and twenty-eight stone of oats; in others, fifteen and twenty stone of wheat, fourteen stone of oats, and sixteen stone of barley; less wheat is always sowed to the acre in spring than in winter.

It is generally thought that in Tradaree, and about Six-mile-bridge, an equal quantity of ground is occupied by grass and tillage. Near the town of Ennis great quantities of onions are raised, and sold at all the fairs and markets, and are often sent to Limerick and Galway, and sometimes to Dublin; there is usually sowed in this neighbourhood alone upwards of 20 cwt. of onion-seed, and frequently great impositions are practised by carriers and others, speculating on bad seed in Dublin.

The kinds of potatoes usually planted, are apples—blacks—cups—leather coats—grenadiers—lumpers—a few red-nose kidney by gentlemen—red apple—white apple, white—eyes—turks—barber’s wonders— a few ox noble—a few yams or bucks—English reds—coppers—pink eyes, &c******. There are more cups planted than of any other kind; they are reckoned not only more productive, but vastly more nutritive, being more difficult of digestion, and, as the country people say, "they stay longer in the belly."

To shew how far the best of our crops are behind what have been produced in ground in a very high degree of cultivation, the following statement is given from the best authority: 

Barrels.

Young’s Eastern Tour, vol. 1 p. 416 Oats per IR acre 29 5/14
——— Annals of Agr. vol. 11 p. 159 Do 29 ½
——— Do. vol. 5 p. 240 Do. 30 9/14
——— Eastern Tour vol. 1 p. 401 Barley 25 11/16
——— Do vol. 3 p. 19 Do 28 5/16
——— Annals of Ag. vol. 2 p. 79 Do 29
——— Do vol. 2 p. 243 Wheat 18 2/5
——— Do vol. 12 p. 45 Do 19 14/20
——— Do vol. 2. p. 93 Do 21 1/20
I am perfectly convinced many will say this is book farming, but such are not worth notice. If they wish for information from one in the county of Clare, let them ask Mr. Singleton, what his, or his father’s crops on the corcasses have been; forty barrels (of sixteen stone each) of bere to the acre; thirty barrels (of twenty stone each) of beans per acre, &c.

* Mr. McEvoy, in his Survey of the County of Tryone, seems to be of the same opinion: he says, "Agents not acquainted with country business may be considered a great bar to improvement; the improvement of land depends very much on the activity and knowledge of agents".

** This in some counties is called a steeveen

*** This amongst many other instances, proves how necessary a resident, active, intelligent agent is to an absentee; had one been here, it is highly probable many hundred ares of Mr. Westby's wastes would have been ere now improved.

**** When Mr. Young made his tour in 1779, the average of wheat was six barrels and an half; of oats, twelve barrels; of barley, twelve barrels.

***** I weighed a bushel of Poland oats, it weighed 39.5 lbs.; a bushel of very good common oats of the country, only 33.5 lbs.; a small quantity of Mr. Blood's new oats equal to upwards of 44 lbs.

****** In the year 1672 potatoes seldom lasted longer than from August to May. Since that period, kinds have been obtained from seed, that, not only ripen earlier, but keep good for upwards of twelve months.

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