Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter V - Section 16

State of plantations and planting

FEW countries want planting more than this, many miles square frequently occurring with scarcely a tree to enliven the dreary scene, and in situations which, from their extreme rockiness, are fit for little else; as the fissures of the limestone-rocks generally take a perpendicular direction, and are generally filled with a rich, light, black earth, there can be no doubt of success; indeed, if any doubt could remain, it must vanish, when the growth of those accidentally produced is observed, and it has been handed down by documents, and by tradition, that those very rocks, which I recommend to be planted, have at remote periods been covered with woods; even some old people recollect woods growing, where wool only is now produced. In many places, if protected from the ravages of sheep and goats, the natural growth of oak, ash, quicken, hazel, thorn, &c. &c. would in a very few years clothe these naked rocks with a luxuriant growth.* 

The shelter afforded by these crags is also of infinite use in a country so much exposed to storms from the Atlantic ocean, the effects of which are frequently seen for many miles inland, even to the eastern extremity of Ireland; this, though a bar to planting in small groups, or dotting with single trees in exposed situations, does not prevent planting in large masses, provided the trees are planted near to each other; there are few situations, where trees will not grow, if this rule is observed; for, though the western side of every plantation, however deep it may be, will certainly be injured, and the tops of the trees will form an inclined plane, yet within this they will grow as freely as in any sheltered situation of equally good soil. At any future period, when thinning is necessary, these outside injured trees should be scrupulously preserved, for the certain consequence of removing them would be the death of those they protected; where the screen has grown so as to afford shelter, and even on the eastern side of hills, any grouping or dotting, that taste or fancy (they are by no means synonymous,) may suggest, can be without apprehension of failure executed; but before this period, to attempt it would be loss of time, trees, and reputation. Many instances of this mistake may be seen in this county, as well as in every other part of Ireland. From their impatience to obtain shelter, too many are tempted to plant trees of some growth; this can be done only in very sheltered situations, with but few kinds of trees, and with those only, that have grown in situations equally exposed; but, without considering this necessary precaution, trees are frequently taken from plantations, where they have been sheltered, and planted on the tops of hills to linger out an existence for a few years.**  

Bindon Blood, Esq. has now nearly finished the planting of upwards of eighty acres of rocky and light soil, the greater part of it worth very little for agricultural purposes; the plantation consists of oak, elm, beech, birch, Scotch and spruce fir, alder, sycamore, pine-aster, &c. &c. but chiefly larch and ash, as the most valuable. If other gentlemen pursued the same plan with equal spirit and intelligence, this county would soon wear a new appearance, and the shelter afforded by such extensive plantations would contribute not only to the improvement of the adjoining land, but materially to that of stock of every description. I wish most sincerely I could say any thing, that would turn the thoughts of young gentlemen to this profitable and charming study; how much more gratifying, than any thing they can experience in lounging about the streets of Ennis, a town where of all others there is less amusement (if a wretched billard-table, and a coffee-house without coffee or tea, and a reading society without books, are excepted) than in most towns in Ireland.

William Burton, Esq. of Clifden, has also planted extensively on some picturesque hills near his house, which in a few years will encrease the beauty of his charming situation, on the banks of the lake of Inchiquin, a situation, that in this county stands unrivalled for picturesque beauty, and variety of outline: he is now preparing to make considerable additions to his designs.

Mr. O’Hara has made some extensive and elegantly sketched plantations on the banks of Lough Graney.

At Springmount, the estate of Mr. Arthur, in the barony of Tullagh, some extensive plantations have been made, and, as the road runs through them, they are very ornamental.

Mr. Arthur has some very fine-shaped hills near Glenomera, that would appear with fine effect, if they were planted, and the valley thrown under water.

Sir Edward O’Brien is making very extensive plantations; in 1806 alone he planted upwards of thirty acres. Larch were planted late in spring, and succeeded better than most others; this valuable property I have often experienced.

Captain Massey’s woods of Doone near Broadford are under very bad management; according to the general practice of Ireland, several shoots are growing from one stem; cattle are allowed to graze amongst them, and browse on the tender shoots; yet I dare say there is a person dignified with the pompous title of wood-ranger.

The most extensive plantations (they can scarcely be called woods) are at Cratilow, near Limerick; they are divided as follows:

Acres.

Mr. Henry O’Brien,

300

Lord Conyngham,

170

Marquis of Headfort,

130

Colonel Monsell,

80

Mr. Blood and Mr. Creagh,

100

___

780

They are all under a wretched system of management: the greater part (indeed I believe all) are grazed; many are filled with stunted oak, with several shoots growing from one stool, and multitudes of birch occupying the place, where that valuable tree, larch, would flourish; but birch being the natural production of the soil, and raised without trouble to the wood-ranger, is permitted to remain by the proprietors, who never see them. I am informed, that nearly one half of the trees are of this kind; what the loss is to the proprietor may be easily estimated, when it is known, that a birch tree at forty years’ growth would not be worth more than about ten shillings, allowing for the decrease in value where the quantity in one place is above 700 acres; whilst larch of the same age would be well worth from three to four guineas. Now supposing only 500 trees to be changed on each acre, it would make the following difference in favour of the larch, valued at only 3l.; besides, there never can be too many larch for the demand, so near water carriage, and as foreign timber is growing daily dearer.

500 larch, at 5s.— — —

. 1500

500 birch, at 10s.— — — —

250

_______

. 1250

Multiplied by only

700

_______

. 875,000

This becomes a serious consideration to a man, who looks forward to his family. If I have valued the birch too low, any deduction can be made; at the same time from the price, that foreign timber is now sold for, and the uncertainty of a future supply from the North of Europe, it is much more probable, that the larch would be worth 5l. per tree, which would make the difference not less than the enormous sum of 1,575,000l. I am well convinced that, if larch had been planted in these extensive woods instead of oak, for which much of the ground is very unfit, the profit would be superior, to a very large amount.*** I do not suppose there is in the whole of these woods a single tree, that could be called timber, or ever likely to be such; this predilection for oak in every kind of soil, where larch or ash would thrive much better, has occasioned an immense loss to individuals, and to the country at large. From the above sketch some little idea may be formed, what the aggregate loss of Ireland has been, by planting oak on stony shallow soils.

Many gentlemen are planting a little ornamentally, but the gentlemen, whom I have before mentioned, are amongst the very few, who have planted for prosperity.

Pine-aster is particularly to be recommended for exposed situations; it stands singly opposed to the western winds, where every other kind is either killed, or injured, and I have every reason to think, from the exposed situations, in which fir timber has been found buried, that it is this species of pine, and not Scotch for, as generally imagined.

In the excellent Survey of Londonderry, p. 424, Mr. Sampson recommends the black sallow, (salex caprea,) for its great hardiness in situations exposed to the north-west wind; Norway maple is also remarkably hardy.**** In the county of Sligo, the Carolina poplar (populus angulata) bears the blast from the Atlantic ocean better than most trees; near Dublin, the tender shoots are very frequently injured by frost.

There were formerly extensive orchards in this county, especially near Six-mile-bridge, and a few still remain; many young apple-trees have been lately planted. Very fine cider is made here from a great variety of kinds mixed in the pressing, and not, as is generally imagined, from caccagea or any particular sort; apples are frequently purchased in the county of Limerick and elsewhere, and manufactured into cider: it is in such deserved repute, that it is generally bought up by the neighbouring gentlemen for their own use and as presents to their friends, the price usually about five guineas per hogshead. I have frequently drank this cider after being kept four years in bottle. I do not know, that there is any thing peculiar in the mode of making; if there is, any inquiries would only lead to error, as every maker has secrets, that he will not divulge, but I believe the grand secret lies in having the apples ripe, free from any taint, and in preventing every fermentation but the first, or saccharine one, and in bottling it at this period, and preventing the smallest mixture of the sediment.

* One Reedy, a small farmer in Burrin, brought some seedling ash and quicken from Dublin about twenty years ago; the place, in which he planted them, was so destitute of earth, that he was obliged to bring mould from a neighbouring bog to cover the roots; they are now worth in general more than five shillings per tree, in ground not worth one shilling per acre.

** It is fortunate for prosperity, that the expence and difficulty put limits to this folly; in this respect I must consider Mr. Boutcher’s publication to have done much mischief.

*** Strabo mentions larch 8 feet in diameter; and in Gilpin’s Forest Scenery, vol. I. p. 74, it is stated, that larch 120 feet long are floated from Valais through the lake of Geneva, and down the Rhone, to supply ships of war with masts. For a full account of this invaluable tree I refer the reader to Dr. Anderson’s Essays, p. 220, Dublin edition.

**** I found two or three varieties of sallows growing in the rocks on the coast near Miltown-Malbay, exposed to every blast from the Atlantic.

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