Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter III - Section 1

Nature of it

THE pasture of this county possesses that variety necessary for rearing and fattening stock of every species and age. The low grounds on the rivers Shannon and Fergus, called corcasses, are equal to the fattening of the largest sized oxen; these fine grounds extend from Paradise to Limerick, an extent of upwards of twenty miles, following the course of the Shannon and Fergus, and are computed to contain upwards of 20,000 acres, some say only about 10,000; they consist of a deep dark-coloured earth, generally over a blueish or black clay, or moory substratum, producing, from the greatest neglect, amongst the most luxuriant herbage, a great quantity of rushes and other pernicious weeds. Indeed the same complaint may be made of the lands of every grazier in Ireland; they are in general the most slovenly farmers, and none ever think of mowing thistles, nettles, fern, or even briars, except their wives, whose perquisite ashes are, get them cut for this purpose. These corcasses about thirty years since let for 20s. per acre, but now many are let at the enormous rent of 5l. merely for the purpose of fattening cattle, and sometimes much higher for meadow. Totally opposite in their nature and uses are the limestone crags of Burrin, and the eastern part of the baronies of Corcomroe and Inchiquin; these are, with some few exceptions, devoted to the rearing of young cattle and sheep, and some so very rocky, that four acres could not feed a sheep; intermixed with these crags may be found some ground of a very fattening quality, producing the finest flavoured mutton, where a person, ignorant of this quality, would imagine sheep could scarcely exist; in soils of this excellent nature white clover, trefoil, and yarrow predominate. Large tracts of these mountains are let by the bulk, and not by the acre. The pasture of the other baronies possesses every variety, from the mountain producing scarcely any thing but heath and carex of various sorts, and which scarcely keep young cattle alive, until it gradually melts into the rich corcass, that supplies the merchants of Cork and Limerick with immense quantities of beef for the navy. Pasture in the hands of the lower kinds of farmers and cottiers is generally very bad, owing to the system they universally pursue, in taking repeated corn crops, and scarcely ever sowing any kind of grass-seeds, but leaving the ground to nature, who seldom fails in a few years to clothe their fields with grass; but in the mean time they must suffer great losses. Their pastures are usually overstocked, especially on those estates, where the landlord or his agent are so blind to their interest, as to grant leases in partnership; here every man wishes to keep as much stock as possible. In the eastern and western extremities of the county, the land usually consists of reclaimed mountain or bog, and, as they scarcely ever use any kind of calcareous manure, the pasture generally consists of coarse sour grasses, and carex of various sorts, which, if not eaten too bare, sustains a small number of young cattle, but infinitely short of the number it could, if improved by draining and liming. The ground between Poulinisky and Carigaholt is remarkable for producing good milk and butter; and there is a small field near Kilrush, which, though it will fatten a cow in a very short time, will take away the milk of the best milker in a few weeks; if this information is correct, the investigation of the vegetable productions of this field might lead to some useful fact interesting to the botanist as well as grazier*.

The murrain was a very common and fatal disorder some years since; like the rot in sheep, it exercised the ingenuity of conjecture and quackery; it was by some imputed to a worm with a very large head, and of very vivid colours, which, it was said, poisoned the water, that the cattle drank; by others it was conjectured, that some poisonous plant (the seed of which, I suppose, dropped from the clouds at that particular period) caused it, and which most fortunately asses were fond of (how lucky!); for this happy propensity they were purchased by many sagacious graziers, and the murrain ceasing about this period, the asses had all the honor, and it is still usual to keep two or three of these animals on a farm; the number of cattle killed by this dreadful disease was immense; many persons lost almost the entire of their stock, and were completely beggared; however the cure of it may have been effected, it has not been known for several years.

A peculiar kind of pasturage occupies the sand hills opposite to Liscanor bay, and along the shore from Miltown to Dunbeg; they consist entirely of sand blown in by the westerly winds; this is arrested in its flight by the growth of the following plants, and has accumulated to immense hills, and at a good distance from the shore; in many places they prevent the ravages of the tide, and are a much safer barrier than those immense cliffs, which guard other parts of the coast, and into which the sea is making rapid progress.

White clover,

Trifolium repens.

Red clover,

Trifolium pratense.

Birds-foot trefoil,

Lotus corniculatus.

Yellow medick,

Medicago falcata.

Meadow soft grass,

Holcus lanatus.

Sheep’s fescue,

Festuca ovina.

Annual meadow-grass, or Suffolk-grass,

Poa annua.

Dandelion,

Leontodon.

Coltsfoot,

Tussilago.

Black medick,

Trifolium lupulinum.

Ragweed,

Senecio jacobŠa.

Ribwort plantain,

Plantago lanceolata.

Crested dogs-tail-grass,

Cynosurus crisatus.

Yarrow,

Achillea millefolium.

Daisies,

Bellis perennis.

Sea-reed, mat-weed, or
Bent, such as is used
for making floor-mats in Dublin,

 

Arundo arenaria.

Several sorts of thistles,
Yellow flag iris, in great
Luxuriance in several feet depth of
pure sea sand, on the sea-shore,

 

Iris pseudoacorus.

Rough cocks-foot-grass,

Dactylis glomerata.

Nettle,

Urtica dioica.

And many others, that I could not ascertain, or the names of which I forget

The greatest part of these plants are eaten by sheep, particularly the lotus corniculatus, which is kept quite close to the ground by them and rabbits, and seems to answer the high character given of it by Dr. Anderson, and in light soils is particularly well worth the notice of the proprietors, especially those possessing ground on the sea-shore, as this plant, both from the closeness of its branches, and the great length of its strong roots, (some of which I have traced ten feet deep in to the sand,) prevents the wind from shifting the sand. This plant forms a very material part of the best fattening herbage of light soils, and frequently may be found in dry bog-ditches, and also on clay soils; it retains the finest verdure even in the driest sand, and hottest summers, occasioned by the great depth, to which the roots run. White clover also forms a very large portion of the growth of these hills. A large quantity of bent, such as is used for matting, might be annually collected here; it was formerly made use of by the country people for thatching, but those, who received the permission to cut it, not contented with this, pulled it up by the roots, and, by destroying the plants, permitted the wind to blow away the sand, that was detained by these roots; since that period they have been very properly denied access. This proves, amongst numberless instances, that any indulgence of this kind, especially to women, is too often abused; permit them to glean before your stacks are out of the field, and they will pull them unless closely watched; the same complaint attaches to the English peasantry. Cattle and horses eat this plant, when better food cannot be had.

Little attention has been paid to the improvement of the pasture of this county, the greater part of it being so covered with rocks as to preclude all improvement, except by making good fences and destroying brambles, black thorns, and other useless growths. Rich corcass lands, that have never been broken up, or at least not for many years past, and are very much encumbered with weeds, or those lands, which have been so impoverished by repeated corn crops, that they produce a very scanty supply of poor sustenance for cattle or sheep for many years after, when they begin to recover their fertility, usually produce, amongst others, a large proportion of crested dog’s-tail grass, (cynosurus cristatus,) in Irish thraneens, white clover, (trifolium repens,) and trefoil, (medicago lupulina). Laying down with grass-seeds has been hitherto practised only by very few gentlemen, who have uniformly borne testimony to the incalculable advantage of the practice. Mr. William Owen of Inchiquin, near Corrofin, sowed clover and hay-seed in ground, which had been completely exhausted by this system of over-cropping; when he sowed it, the ground was worth nothing, nor, if left to itself, would be for several years. The following summer he mowed a very abundant crop of choice hay, and had several cuttings given green to cattle, horses, and pigs; had the whole field been used in this manner, instead of having been cut for hay, it would not only have produced at least three times as much food, but, what is of infinite consequence, a large quantity of manure would have been gained. So many instances have occurred in various parts of Ireland, under my own eye, of the inestimable value of the practice, that I cannot too earnestly press it on the attention of landholders, and of proprietors: the one would be enabled to give a good rent for lands, that are deemed worth little, and the other would, with only a little exertion of themselves or their agents, double their rent-rolls; it is a certain fact, that an adoption of a better system of farming would have this double effect.

The proportion usually allowed, is of ray-grass, if sowed alone, four bushels per acre; or of ray-grass two bushels, and red clover fourteen pounds, per acre.

Ground of this description, after having been used in this manner for two summers, should be broken up early in winter, as grass-grounds break up best when moist, and drilled potatoes should be cultivated. If the clover has been fed in the house, (and any other mode is most wasteful, and practised only by the most wretched farmers,) and the cattle have been well littered, there will be a sufficient quantity for this purpose; the potatoes to be followed by a crop of barley or oats, with which clover and hay-seeds should be sowed, and the soiling system steadily pursued as before; by which means, not only the land will be brought to a high degree of amelioration, but the manure, which under the old system of pasturing would be lost, if dropped on the land in summer, will remain for the improvement of other worn out ground, or any other purpose found necessary. 

In hot dry summers, the grass of the rocky regions before mentioned becomes quite brown and withered, and stock are put to their shifts; but, shortly after a shower of rain falls, there is an astonishingly rapid change to a charming verdure, and the ground produces a fine bite, where a few days before they were almost perishing. This is to be understood chiefly of those parts, where the stratum of rock, provincially called flag, lies horizontally; if it assumes a perpendicular position, it does not suffer so much, as the fissures between the rocks of this description are generally filled with the richest earth, frequently many yards deep, which produces not only the most luxuriant pasture, but the most vigorous growth of trees, particularly ash, and scarcely ever loses its colour, except in extreme drought.

It is the custom of many graziers to take up their grounds in June or July, (sometimes in poorer soils they remain untouched from the foregoing autumn,) and to permit the grass to remain for feeding store cattle or sheep in winter, and frequently for the purpose of turning in cattle until their fattening ground is ready, which in backward springs is of great value. In whatever way this kind of grass is consumed, it is found to be a most beneficial practice, in so much, that when this kind of ground, from want of stock, and frequently from people taking ground they are not able to stock, (which is much the practice in this county,) is to be let for the winter, very high prices are often paid by those, who are overstocked, or whose soils are backward in vegetation.

* I did not receive this information, until I had left the neighbourhood, or I would have endeavoured to throw some light on the subject.

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