Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter III - Section 3

Markets or Fairs for them

THE principal markets for fat cattle are Cork* and Limerick; a few years back, an attempt was made to establish one at Clare, connected with a commercial house at Liverpool, but from some unfortunate circumstance it failed; if successful, it would have benefited the country very much. As the demand at these markets depends almost entirely on the continuance of war, it becomes frequently very precarious, and fluctuating in its effects between riches and ruin. If contracts are made by commercial houses in England, agents attend the fairs in November and December, and generally give good prices; if a peace is expected, or, as has been the case in 1806, the merchants are combined, the graziers are completely at their mercy, and suffer not only every kind of gross indignity of treatment from these great men, but suffer serious losses from the cheating of every person concerned in slaughtering these cattle. As it is scarcely known in other parts of the kingdom, it may be at least amusing to detail the business a little. The grazier finding no agent attending the fairs to buy, (except some trusty friend of the merchants, who reads a letter from Cork or Limerick, stating the rumours of a peace, or the expected very low price, is obliged to drive his cattle to either of these markets; after driving them into either of these towns he waits upon the great man, and with all humility begs to know, if he wants any fat cattle; after a good deal of pretended hurry of business, and waiting for a repetition of the question, "he believes he shall not want any thing more than what he has already engaged, but to oblige Mr.———endeavour to make room for them; as to the price, it is to be regulated by what any other grazier receives." When this is settled, he must drive his beasts to a slaughter-house, many of which are erected for this purpose; he pays for this a high price, and must give also the heads and offal; he must sit up all night, superintending the slaughtering, and must silently observe every species of fraud committed by the very worst kind of butchers; for, as has frequently happened, if resentful language is used to those scoundrels, they begin to whet their knives, and put themselves in an assassinating attitude; this in a slaughter-house at night, and amongst the horrid scene of carnage around him, requires no small share of nerves. Next morning, without taking any rest, he must bring his meat to the cutters-up; here, unless they are fee’d, begins the second part of the fraud he has to suffer; first they take for their perquisite several pounds of his best beef, and, if he has cows, unless they are well paid, will cut away large quantities of the udder, which they call offal, and which is the property of the merchant, though he pays nothing for it. The merchant also gets the tongue, and, if the grazier wants a few, must beg them at the rate of at least three shillings each. The third scene begins at the scales; here another perquisite must be paid, and much good meat is refused, because truly it should be a few pounds less than the stipulated weight per beast; an appeal then is made to the great man; "he is gone out," "he won’t be home to-night," "he is so busy he can’t be seen;" at lenght perhaps he is visible, and, when matters are explained, "Really Sir I do not wish to take your cattle; the prices I receive in England are so low, I shall lose by my contract; suppose you would try if you can do better elsewhere, but I will agree to take your beef, though below the weight, if you make the terms lower." The grazier has now no redress, and must agree to any terms: the business does not end here; then he enquires what mode of payment; bills at ninety-one days are the best terms he can get. He then applies to a chandler to buy his fat; when this is settled, the tanner must be waited on, and here, as well as with the chandler, bills at a long date are the only payment he can receive, and, as they are generally men of small or no capital, if their speculations should not succeed, their bills are worth little. This is but a small part of the gross indignities the grazier has to suffer; he has to transact a business totally foreign to his habits of life, consequently unable to cope with those, who from their infancy are used to the tricks practised in this business, and therefore able to avoid them or turn them perhaps to their own benefit. The price depends not only on the causes before mentioned, but on the size of the beast, those of a large size bringing more per cwt. than those of a smaller one, which is a premium on large bone, and cows are always lower in price than oxen, though they are sent to England in the same packages, and, if fat, go as the best beef called planters mess.

During the negotiations for peace with France in the autumn of 1806, the expectation, not the hope, of a favourable issue prevented speculations, and determined both buyers and sellers to suspend them until the fair of Ballinasloe in October, or the result of Lord Lauderdale’s negotiation should transpire. 

The next fair of any note is Clonroad near Ennis, on the 13th of October; at this fair the sales for fat cattle generally begin, and they end at Six-mile-bridge, on the fifth of December; any, that remain unsold after that period, are sent to Cork or Limerick.

There is a curious circumstance attending the laying in of store cattle in May, the price given then depending entirely on the sales for fat cattle the preceding winter; it is not easy to account for this on any other principle, than that a good price for the fat cattle puts a man in cash, and of course in good spirits, which opens the heart, but sometimes also blinds the judgement; for, what have the sales or prices of a consumed commodity to do with that, which is to be consumed in twelve months after? The price almost entirely depending on the buyers, and on fortuitous circumstances, there can be no possible clue to guide a man. The long faces at the fair of Ballinasloe in October on the news of a peace plainly proved, that the prices of a former had no effect on those of this year. The graziers may justly accuse me of great presumption; but it is the duty of every person engaged in the survey of a county to state what appears to be the customs of it, and to venture an opinion on their good or bad tendency; if it has no other effect, it may make them think on subjects, which it is highly probable they have handed down to them from their great grandfather, without adverting to a change of sentiment, that has taken place in England, and which appears to have a just foundation. As an instance of the force of habit on men ignorant of what is doing elsewhere, I have not met a single grazier in the county, that did not laugh at the idea of fattening cattle on soiling in summer; and they will no doubt be astonished to hear, that one grazier in England, Mr. Mure, fed 240 oxen in sheds through a whole summer, by the mowing of one scythe, and all sold off very fat; and, though they may think me visionary, I am perfectly convinced, that, if the corcasses were managed in this manner, they would fatten twice the number of cattle, and make manure for poorer ground. It is a curious circumstance, that both graziers and the buyers of fat cattle at Cork and Limerick agree for the price without once handling them, all is done by the eye. I have known a cross-made high-boned ox to be rejected in a lot by an agent for a house in Limerick, that, on being killed, turned out much better than a more even-shaped one. It appears curious to see a man buy fat cattle in a field without alighting from his horse to handle them; if handling is unnecessary, the poor beasts at the Farming Society shews would be saved a great deal of needless torture, of that knuckling and pinching, that some amateurs are so fond of. Mr. Young’s opinion on this subject deserves attention; he says, "When you see graziers go into a fair, and run off lots of lean cattle, to buy by the eye only, they are groping in the dark without more intelligence or sagacity, than one of the beasts could use in choosing out of a lot of men one to be his master.

Fairs held in towns are a great nuisance, and towns are surely most inconvenient places to both buyer and seller, for the cattle are packed so close together, that it is not easy to form a judgement of their quality, and great difficulties are experienced to keep each person’s cattle separate. Great abuses are permitted by the owners of cattle; it is a frequent practice to break their horns by unnecessary blows, especially at Ballinasloe, after they are sold; severe blows on the legs are viewed with perfect indifference by the graziers.

Great losses are sustained by having fairs in harvest; almost every person for many miles around Ennis and Killaloe deserted their reaping, which almost universally began the day before, to idle away their time at these fairs, which were held on the third of September; I saw very great quantities of oats lying on the ledge, and, as the following day was very wet and cold, and Sunday followed, they must have sustained very considerable losses; besides, the money spent on whiskey, and the consequent debility of both alt="" and mind, must have been a serious addition.

 * In the second part of Mr. Young’s Tour in Ireland, he states the average value of the exports of pasturage, consisting of beef, butter, candles, hides, tallow, live stock, and cheese, ending in 1777, to be annually, 1,218,902l: this must be considered as the exports of Ireland at large. Since that there has been a great encrease, for in the city of Cork alone there were slaughted in 1806 fifty thousand oxen and cows, which, valued at only 15l. each, make, for them alone, 750,000l.—He also states the value of pigs, at the same period, to be 150,631l. whilst Cork alone in 1806 exported one hundred and fifty thousand pigs; and as few are exported but those of large size, the value may be estimated to be at least 300,000l.

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