Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter IV - Section 7

Nature of fences

IN the rocky regions stone walls are necessarily the only fence; they are made very differently, according to the fancy or abilities of the proprietor; the usual way is by stones piled on each other without any order like filigree work; they are called Burrin walls, and form a very unstable barrier; a beast scratching against one of them often brings down many perches, but this, from custom, is little regarded, for in a few minutes all is built up again, and the herds and their children have little else to do. I have frequently seen the gentlemen of the country with the greatest indifference throw down a large part of these walls, to gain an entrance for their horses and dogs; I have even seen a rascally dog-teacher push down with his foot many perches, whilst the poor passive tenant must look on without murmuring; if a person stopped to replace any stones he had thrown down, he would be heartily laughed at. Gentlemen, and more substantial farmers, usually make double dry walls, sometimes dashed with mortar, but oftener without it; at this dry work the labourers of the country are generally very expert, and it is almost the only work they will undertake by task; if they are not watched, they do not put long stones enough across the wall to tie it, by which neglect it frequently opens in the middle, and falls to either side; these walls are usually made about five feet high, and cost about 2s. 2d. to 2s. 4d. per perch*. Some few put a coping of mortar, but the usual one is sods, which last but a short time, and greatly injure the ground, from which they are stripped: the wall is usually finished by throwing all the small broken stones on the top; instead of this, the large flat stones should be reserved for finishing, and, if they are left projecting a few inches, they will prevent sheep from leaping over them, and their weight will prevent their being displaced by cattle; if they are laid in mortar, it will be still better.  

Walls are sometimes so badly built, and so low, and the breed of sheep so active, that it is necessary to put a bearding of furze, briars, or thorns, which soon fall off, and leave gaps, that require constant mending.

In many parts of this county a gate is a rarity; when cattle are to be moved, a man takes down a yard or two of wall, and, when the cattle are in, builds it up again; this, even with men of property, is the general practice twice or oftener every day; I have seen, at several gentlemens’ houses, dairy cows and horses, that were moved twice every day, let in and out of the field in this manner: if a grazier wishes to shew his stock to a buyer, two or three idle fellows and his wise-man are in waiting, to throw down walls, and afterwards to build them up, and the wise-man always takes care to be near enough to hear what is said; the gentlemen of the country seem to like this, and even frequently go aside to consult with this wise-man on what they ought to be much better judges of.

Great exertions are made by some gentlemen, but more by cottiers, in clearing their land from stones; for this purpose walls ten feet thick are not uncommon, and pyramids of stones of a large size remain as monuments of Irish industry, and not, like the pyramids of Egypt, everlasting proofs of human folly.

It is the practice with many to give their walls a considerable batter, not only as saving labour and stones, but with an idea that it strengthens them; but they do not consider that, in proportion as they deviate from a perpendicular, they become weaker; it also supposes, that every stone is of equal weight with the opposite one; as this is not the case, the heavy one thrusts out the lighter, and tumbles down a large part of the wall.

Ditches are generally very badly made; some few gentlemen are now beginning to turn their thoughts to this very necessary and comfortable improvement, but they seldom make them deep enough, or of sufficient breadth, and sheep and cattle run up them with ease; and, as they are usually faced with sods, and too broad in the bottom and shallow, they are torn down by the feet of cattle, in search of the grass produced by these sods. Ditches should be made at least seven feet wide at the top, and, if the ground will admit it, should be at least five feet deep, and not broader at the bottom than just to allow a shovel to clear out any weeds or earth, that may accumulate in them, and, if water runs in them, the confinement of the stream will augment its force, and help to keep them always clear. If these directions are complied with, I would advise the ditch to be planted entirely with two-year-old seedling forest trees, without any thorn quicks; they would not only afford equal shelter, but would be very valuable hereafter; if they were planted at a foot or less asunder, they would always afford various cuttings for farming purposes, and a sufficient quantity might be left for timber, to which they would grow at two feet asunder; for, as they would have air on two sides, they would not be injuriously drawn; they should be laid in like quicks, and the best of the surface-mould of the ditch carefully preserved for them. Tenants, who have terminable tenures, should register them, by which means, at the end of their lease, they will be either paid their full value, have a liberty of cutting them down, or get a renewal from their landlord rather than have his fences injured. In exposed situations I would recommend beech, but, in general, ash will be found the most generally useful.

In the neighbourhood of Killaloe, the fences are mostly made of furze, (ulex Europćus,) which gives an appearance to the country not unlike that of some parts of Wexford.

Sir Edward O’Brien has most excellent gates through the entire of his demesne and farms; the piers are single hammered stones, and the gates are of oak, about four feet high, and nine feet broad, with spring fastenings, that enable a horseman to open them at either side without alighting; the piers are about six feet high.

In Tradree the fences are generally ditches, but very few are planted. I should imagine timber sallows could be planted in the corcass ditches to great profit.

* If ivy was planted to these dry walls, it would strengthen them greatly, and prevent cattle from throwing them down.

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