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Units of Land Measurement

It is difficult to find any satisfactory definition of the Baile Biataigh, or 'victualler's town', as it is sometimes called. Baile in its anglicised form 'Bally' is the most dominant element in our placenames; it will be found in approximately 10% of Co. Clare townlands. Today the word baile denotes a town or urban settlement; but since towns, as we know them, had no place in the Gaelic social organisation, the precise meaning of the ancient baile is not clear. According to Keating the Baile Biataigh consisted of twelve 'ploughlands' of one hundred and twenty acres of arable land each. (There was also a unit called a Leathbhaile e.g. Laghvally in Kilmacrehy parish, and Lavally in the parishes of Kilchreest and Clondegad). At best this reckoning can only be regarded as an approximation for it seems clear from the Carew Mss. and other sources that units of land measurement could vary significantly from county to county, and even from place to place within the same county. It is evident too that different standards of measurement were applied according to the quality and situation of the land, and its proximity to such things as mills, fairgrounds, routeways, woods etc. Indeed, the whole question of land survey in Ireland down to comparatively recent times seems a confused tangle unless it is borne in mind that land was reckoned in terms of its economic potential rather than in absolute units of measurement. The following extract from the Inchiquin Mss. will be seen to make little sense unless the various acreages quoted are regarded as referring, not to the actual quarters themselves, but merely to the 'profitable' portions (in this instance as returned by the Strafford Survey) in the several denominations:

[1663] Lease for three years to William Neylon of . . . Ballyvowleghan, two-thirds of a quarter containing 79 acres; Croghill, two-thirds of a quarter, 43 acres; Ballyrighyny, one quarter, 21a.; Craganeclonye, 4a. in Mohermollanagh, two-thirds of three-quarters of a quarter, 29a.; Ballycloncahill, one quarter 74a.; Carewreagh, half a quarter, 25a.; Clogher, one quarter, 93a.; Ballagh, one quarter, 65a.; Kiltoraght, one quarter 50a.; Dromoryn East, one quarter, 57a.; Gortnorkey, half a quarter, 154a.; Mollenyne, one quarter, 73a.

But the 'profitable' land too was variously estimated and different calculations were applied depending on whether the particular portion contained a mixture of arable and pasture ground, coarse or 'rockie pasture', mountain pasture etc.. Moreover, allowance must be made for the discrepancy between the Irish acre and the English, or 'plantation acre', found in the Strafford and later surveys.

'. . . it appears that the before mentioned lands do conteine the number of 3062 acres Irish measure, making 4960 acr. 2 rds english measure.

And, as if to complicate matters even further, the plantation acre also could vary considerably, the quality and situation of the land again being the determinant. In the Down Survey of Iveragh and other parts of Kerry, for instance, we are told that ten, twenty and sometimes thirty acres were counted for one. Writing in 1846, Captain Thomas Larcom, Director of the Ordnance Survey, had this to say concerning the acre:

The acres were by estimation only, and differed considerably. The origin of this measure (the acre) would lead me far beyond the present subject; but, for example, there were in times comparatively recent, the "large acre" and the "small acre", with no fixed ratio between them; and even now the acre differs: the Cunningham acre; the plantation and statue acre. The areas of the Ordnance Survey are all in statue acres.

In the Inchiquin Mss. there is a further reference to the Cunningham acre:

'. . . the Cunningham acre which is medium between the English and Plantation acre'.

It seems clear that pasture was reckoned according to the amount of stock it supported annually whereas arable land was often measured by a fixed number of days ploughing. In 1598 the "cartron or kearmire [ceathrú mír] of Liscorbain in Seandangan contayned 21 daies of erabl land" (sic). A bequest of "two days ploughing in Inshinludry and one in Gortmore with the grazing of three cows in Cregganboy" in the will of Daniel O'Brien of Carrowduff Castle in Inchiquin barony in 1656 seems equally imprecise at this remove, but no doubt it was perfectly intelligible to those whom it then concerned.

The task of quantifying archaic Irish land measures is not simplified by the fact that considerable regional differences are evident, not only in the way portions of land were estimated, but also in the terms applied to the various land units themselves. In Co. Tyrone, for example, according to a document in the Carew Papers, the land measures used were the ballibetagh, balliboe, sessiagh, gort and quarter. In Fermanagh, on the other hand, land was measured in ballibetaghes, quarters and tithes, every tathe being coextensive with the balliboe in Tyrone. In Tipperary the common subdivisions were called capell lands ('a capell land containing 20 great acres, every acre 20 English acres') and quatermeers, four of which were reckoned to each capell land. In Connacht all were called quarters and cartrons; a quarter being reckoned as four cartrons, every cartron thirty acres. Clare is not specifically mentioned in this document but it seems clear from the Book of Survey and Distribution that, as in Connacht, the quarter (ceathrú), half-quarter and cartron (ceathrú mír) were most commonly used measures. The quarter, anglicised variously as carrow, carhoo, carucate (i.e. ceathrú cuid) etc., will be found as a name element in upwards of sixty townlands in the country.

Book of Survey and Distribution, Townland of Forhy (Furhee), Tulla Parish
Books of Survey
and Distribution

Larcom, who had made a special study of the ancient land measures, gives a list of those most generally in use throughout the country at large together with their most usual subdivisions:

10 acres - 1 Gneeve; 2 Gneeves - 1 Sessiagh; 3 Sessiaghs - 1 Tate or Ballyboe; 2 Ballyboes - 1 Ploughland, Seisreagh or Carrow; 4 Ploughlands - 1 Ballybetagh, or Townland; 30 Ballybetaghs - Triocha Céad or Barony.

Notwithstanding the many anomalies that present themselves there seems to be fairly general agreement that the 'quarter' (carrow, ceathrú) can be taken as loosely representing one hundred and twenty acres. It was sometimes called a 'ploughland', or 'seisreagh' from the Irish seisreach meaning a team of horses yoked to a plough:

[1674] The quarter or plowland called Cahirmoele, the quarter or plowland called Cahirfadda . . .

In Clare the common subdivisions of the 'quarter' were the 'half-quarter' (Leath-ceathrú=sixty acres: e.g. Lecarrow More and Lecarrow Beg in Kilmaley parish), ('cartron' or 'carrowmeer' (ceathrú mír=thirty acres) and the 'seiseadh', or 'sessiagh', (i.e. séú cuid or sixth part of the quarter=twenty acres.) But again there were variations, so that once more it becomes necessary to emphasise that the equations given are at best but attempts at reducing land of varying quality to a rough and ready common denominator. In the Book of Survey and Distribution there is a note under Tullycommon townland in Killinaboy parish stating that 'in this parcel 6 carrowmeers goes to 1 quarter.'

As well as the more common designations encountered above some less well known land measures are detectable in the names of many or our modern townlands e.g. Cooguquid (i.e. the fifth part [of the quarter?] in Kilnamona parish, Cooga in Ruan parish, Coogyulla (the Ulster fifth) in Killilagh parish, Treanmanagh (an train meánach= the middle third) in the parishes of Kilkeedy and Mullagh, and Dehomade (an deichiú méid=the tenth part) in Clondagad parish. The cartron, both in its Irish and anglicised form, is preserved in the townlands of Cartron (Abbey and Clonrush parishes), Carrowmeer (Tomfimlough and Quin parishes) and Carrowvere (Rath parish). The seiseadh is recalled in the names of six of our townlands viz. Sheshia (Abbey parish), Sheshodonnell East and West (Carron parish), Sheshymore (Noughaval parish) and Shessiv (Rath and Kildysart).

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