Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter II - Section 4

Nature and use of Implements of husbandry

THE plough of this county is very ill calculated to perform good work; one of its greatest defects is, the sole not lying flat on the bottom of the furrow, by which means small ribs are left unploughed, which in wet soils (especially where the ridiculous custom of cross-ploughing is practised) prevents the water from running into the furrow, and in winter is highly prejudicial. It may be set down as an axiom, that, when the ploughman does not preserve an erect posture at his work, it is badly executed; the furrow after good ploughing should be perfectly flat at the bottom, and the cut on the land side quite perpendicular; the share is seldom broad enough to cut the furrow, consequently great additional force is necessary to tear instead of to cut the sod; even if the fin should accidentally be originally broad enough, in a short time it wears almost off, and becomes quite blunt; this, and the general bluntness of the coulter, causes a great encrease of draft. The Scotch plough, according to the improved principles, seems to be one of the best we have yet adopted; it turns a sod nine or ten inches broad, and five or six inches deep, in stiff soils, with the assistance of only a pair of horses or oxen without a driver, in a much superior manner, and with more ease to both cattle and ploughman, than such work is usually effected in this county by four horses, and one, and very often two drivers, and, not unfrequently, a man to keep the plough in the ground by pressing on the end of the beam with a pitchfork. It very rarely happens, that the furrows are made straight; the person, who leads the horses, cannot possibly guide them in a right line; he is too much occupied in beating them (four in a breast) in the face to make them go forward; and the furrow, from the faulty construction of the plough, is generally so badly defined, that the horses deviate from it, and form curves not unlike those tame and gently waving outlines, which some of our modern improvers are fond of in planting. Besides, the ploughman scarcely ever takes his eye off the furrow, he has enough to do to keep the plough in the ground; if, on the contrary, the ploughman holds the reins, his eye is constantly fixed on some object on the headland, which he sees between the horses’ ears, who scarcely ever deviate from the square and clean furrow, that a good plough leaves; and the work is not only performed with exactness, but with ease to the horses, and, except in strong ground, the ploughman has seldom any exertion to make, the plough often running several perches without any assistance from him. At every ploughing match poles are set up on the headlands, to which a good ploughman runs his furrow nearly as even as if it had been cut by a garden line; a leader to a plough would find this almost impossible, as has been often proved at ploughing matches, where attachment to old ridiculous customs has induced some farmers to expose themselves by sending ploughs drawn by four horses or oxen; the result has been, without an exception, that their work was the very worst in the field, and even executed in a longer period than that by two horses*. 

Sir Edward O’Brien, the Rev. Frederick Blood, and Mr. Burton of Clifden, have adopted the Scotch plough, with two horses or oxen, worked with collars and no driver, and find every advantage, that could be wished for. To shew the benefit of good example, I have seen a neighbouring small farmer landing his potatoes in drills, thirty inches asunder, with a plough; so much superior is example to precept. In many parts of this county, and on light soils, they are so obstinate as to use four horses abreast in what can only be called scratching the ground, it could not be termed ploughing. The traces are generally made of rope, sometimes with iron thimbles, but seldom with collars; those made of straw, called sugans, are usually substituted.

The common harrows of the country are of various sizes; they usually have five bars; they are of very rude workmanship and materials, and the teeth are so fixed, that several follow each other in the same line. There has been lately a new kind of harrow adopted at the Implement Society’s works on the North wall, that is reckoned superior to any former one; it consists of two small harrows joined in the middle, by which means it has not only the longitudinal motion of the old form, but has that hustling latitudinal one so desirable in rough ground; it is drawn by two horses, but each horse draws his own harrow, a mode that, if possible, should be adopted in all kinds of farming operations.

Carts are used by only a few gentlemen; those made in the country are sometimes called Scotch carts, but the principles, on which they are made, are little understood by carpenters; they may have the appearance, and be painted blue with red wheels, (a plan adopted lately by every botching carpenter,) yet be deficient in good principles. Sir Edward O’Brien has Scotch carts, admirably contrived for farming work; they are, 1st, carts; 2d, by the addition of cradles, they become harvest waggons; and, 3d, on the same wheels and shafts a frame goes on, that converts them into very capacious turf-waggons; the naves are of cast metal. Cars, called here truckles, and in other counties Munster cars, and of a very bad construction, are generally used; the axletree is always of wood, and so very thick, that a great deal of unnecessary friction is caused; they are usually sold ready made, including straddle and hames of ash, for 1l. 14s. 1d.—five stone of iron, 17s. 6d.—smith, 9s. 9d.—in all 3l. 1s. 4d. Much loss of labour is occasioned by not having the turf-kishes sufficiently capacious to draw a proper load for a strong horse; large unwieldy machines for this purpose are sometimes seen, in which four or six oxen or horses are harnessed. I have seen, in the streets of Ennis, six unfortunate oxen drawing one of these cumbrous machines; they drew by yokes and bows on their bare shoulders, seemingly much distressed; between the pain occasioned by this barbarous mode, and the ill construction of the machine, the load, though it appeared a mountain of turf, and was a cause of great exultation to the drivers, did not contain near so much as they could have drawn, if harnessed singly; for I observed, that, instead of pursuing a right line, they often staggered against each other, and deviated considerably, in so much, that I am convinced two of them frequently drew the whole; they drew twenty-one kishes of dry turf; singly, they would have drawn a much greater proportion.

In some few places the slide car without wheels is still used, and generally made of bog timber; for drawing loads down steep hills it is an useful implement, as it does not run on the horse’s heels like the wheel car.

The other implements are spades, called in some parts of Ireland loys or facks. They are inconvenient heavy tools, throwing the weight on one hand, and greatly inferior in handiness and strength to those in use in some parts of the county of Meath, and other parts of Leinster. When they become worn, they are narrow in the blade and short, and most unfit for cutting in bog, or for moving loose earth; spades for this purpose should be very broad. I have seen upwards of forty men cutting drains in a bog, with these worn-down spades; the sod usually fell off two or three times, and not unfrequently it was left for the shovel; as to pitching it to any distance, as it should be, that was quite out of the question; the custom in this county, and indeed in most others, is to leave every thing for the shovel: in arranging labourers, the stewards of this county allot a shovel to every spade, though a good shoveller could easily keep two spades employed; but the good-natured spadesman, to prevent the shovel wanting work, does not throw any of the earth up on the bank, and the steward, wrapped up in his great frize coat, takes no notice of this indolent habit.

Stewards and gardeners, who have even been in England, when they come into this country, too often conform to all the bad practices, and use all the unhandy implements of the country. Shovels are generally bad and too heavy: pitchforks are almost always too short in the prongs, and rakes with teeth so short, that much of the hay is left behind. Every kind of tool has a bad handle, generally crooked, and too small and pliant, partly from a scarcity of wood, and a partiality to a bent handle. Scythes and reaping-hooks, of the usual form, from England; but the first are so badly set in the handle, that a man, to mow as close as he should do, must almost touch the ground with his knuckles; as the mower does not choose to injure his back by this posture, he is permitted by his indolent employer to leave a large portion of grass uncut, between where the point and heel of the scythe meet in different swaths.

Slanes for cutting turf generally too large. Wheelbarrows very bad; by the faulty position of the wheel, the entire weight is thrown on the hand, and they do not carry one-third of the weight they could with those, where the wheel is brought under the alt="". Some few gentlemen have potatoe washers, and still fewer have winnowing machines. I have not heard of any threshing machine in the county, but those belonging to Sir Edward O’Brien, and Boyle Vandeleur, Esq. with which he threshes forty barrels of oats (of fourteen stone each) in eight hours with two horses, smart work.

* I have frequently had the upper part of drains ploughed out, by placing stakes at each end, and executed as straight as if by a line.

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