Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter V - Section 4

Prices of wages, labour, and provisions

IN some parts of the county, where a labourer is constantly employed, he gets 8d. per day; if only occasionally, or at harvest, 10d. to 1s. 1d. and diet; in other places he receives 6 d. per day through the year, if occasionally, 6d. and diet; the rates in others are 10d. if constantly employed; some persons, who give small plots of ground and a cabin, with potatoe ground at the rate, for which land let ten years ago, pay 8d., some 6d., and some only 5d.; Mr. Singleton of Quinville pays his cottiers only 5d. through the year, but they have bargains of ground, that make their wages at least equal to 10d. Stating the rate of wages will by no means ascertain what the labourer receives, for, as in the case of Mr. Singleton, they have an equivalent in land, and frequently those, who have the highest nominal wages, are charged enormously high for their potatoe ground, and perhaps a wretched cabin, that they built themselves. Very little labour is performed by task, sometimes threshing is done, but complaints are always made of their leaving much corn in the straw; the labourers, from not knowing the value of task-work, are averse to it; were it as well known as it deserves, almost every species of work would be executed in this manner; it would be for the mutual benefit of both employer and labourer; one would have more than twice the quantity of work done in the same time, and the other would be able to earn nearly twice his usual wages; the chief difficulty would be to prevent the execution of the work in an improper manner, but this could be easily prevented by standing by, and instructing a man in making a perch or two as it ought to be, and insisting steadily on the execution conformably to the pattern. Whenever I perceive any attempt at trick, I always have the ditch, or whatever it may be, levelled, and make the task-man, at his own expence, remake it according to the plan; this seldom fails of effecting the purpose, but, as it frequently happens, that unforeseen difficulties occur in the execution, such as large stones, strong springs of water, &c. &c, in such cases a liberal allowance should be made. It should also be insisted on, and enforced by a stoppage of wages, that the work shall be executed at a fixed period, and that a certain number of men shall be constantly employed; otherwise, as they think they are sure of the job, they will go elsewhere, and return to their task-work, only when they cannot get work at any other place; but still an allowance should be made for continued wet weather, or other unavoidable obstacles. Many, who are not accustomed to this mode, may imagine, if they see a labourer earn perhaps twice as much as his usual hire, that a great abatement should be made in his agreement; where this pitiful idea prevails, all thoughts of task-work had better be abandoned, and the old lazy system pursued. It is policy as well as justice, that a labourer should receive higher wages for greater exertions; besides, in a country, where this practice is unknown, if the labourer earned even a little more than he ought, it will help to establish the practice; at a future period it may be brought down to an equitable standard, and competition amongst the labourers will assist to fix it. That labourers do not receive in general a sufficient remuneration for active exertions, I am perfectly convinced; we often hear of such and such gentlemen giving the usual rate of the country, and a cabin and potatoe ground, and grass for a cow. There are numbers in the city of Dublin, I am certain, that think these are always given gratis; but so far from it, the gentlemen gives perhaps a few sticks of small value towards building a cabin, and the cottier finds every thing else; the potatoe ground some waste spot worth little, and that probably takes many days of hard labour to clear; yet the cottier is charged for this at least as high a rent as for the best acre on the estate. The grass for a cow is generally some worn-out or wet boggy pasture, overstocked, and charged equally high as the potatoe ground; yet these are the favors, for which the landed proprietors expect the most active labour, and it frequently happens, that the poor man, after all his exertions, for some trifling omission gets warning to quit on the first of May. That there are many exceptions to the above mean-spirited landlords, I have had great pleasure in witnessing, and would feel great pleasure in particularising them, but, as it would appear invidious, I desist. In the year 1800 potatoes sold for 6d. or 8d. per stone by retail; by the barrel they were sold something cheaper; even at that price they were hard to be got, as the demand for those for seed, and an opinion that they would be dearer in summer, kept up the price; (in Dublin at that period they were 2s. 4d. per stone;) now (1807) they are for 2d. and 3d. per stone by retail, which is reckoned dear.

House-carpenter, from 3s. 9d. to 4s. 4d. per day; hedge carpenter, 2s. 2d. and diet per day; thatcher, 3s. 3d. and diet per day; herdsman and shepherd by agreement.

Ploughmen, who are expert at skinning ground for burning, receive usually 3s. 3d. per day and diet; they find their own plough, and the farmer finds two horses and a driver; their plough, though of the very rudest workmanship and materials, (generally small rough birch,) performs the work equal to any I ever saw at any of the ploughing matches of agricultural societies; they take a sod about ten inches broad, and from two to five inches deep, as they are desired; the ploughman, that I saw executing this work, was in such demand, that it was necessary to bespeak him some time before he was wanting; he works very quick, making the horses go at a smart rate, and takes great care to keep the wing of his share and coulter always very sharp, which is a great contrast to the general mode of the country, and indeed of Ireland, for the coulters are frequently an inch broad in the cutting part.

At Miltown-Malbay labour is 6d. per day, the rent 4l. per acre for ground, and 6l. for the grass of a cow; what an unfeeling disproportion! Thirty years ago the rate of wages was 6d. per day; the grass of a cow was then about thirty shillings, rent of a cabin and an acre of ground, much better than at present, 30s.

Now the rate of labour is only 6d., or at the utmost 8d., grass of a cow from three guineas to five guineas, a cabin and an acre of potatoe-ground four pounds, frequently much more. I need not enter into calculations to shew the depression of the lower classes of the people; the above comparison is worth a volume of the most laboured deductions. I am happy to have the authority of so competent a judge as Mr. Young, who, in his Tour in Ireland in 1779, second part of vol. 2, gives a detail of oppressions, which, I am sorry to say, are too frequent at this day, and I can assure Mr. Young he is by no means a favourite in this county; he told too many tales about middle-men. 

The bread of this county is, in general, exceedingly good, but seldom has a sufficient quantity of salt put into it, and is too crumbly, owing to some mismanagement in the making; this fault may be generally found all through Munster and Connaught, and indeed in most country towns in Ireland.

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