Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter IV - Section 1

Their size

THE size of farms varies greatly; those under tillage from one or two to fifty acres, but of the latter size there are but few; those devoted to rearing and feeding sheep are usually from one hundred to three hundred, and a few six hundred or eight hundred acres. When very rocky, they are sometimes let by the bulk, and not by the acre, but the landlord generally knows the number of acres, that each farm contains. Where farms are too small to employ a pair of horses or oxen constantly, and too large to be cultivated by the spade, the occupiers are generally in a most uncomfortable situation, and, it being too much the wish of every cottier to become a small farmer, he passes from a state of comparative comfort to one of wretchedness. A labourer should have as much ground, as will give him plenty of grass for a cow, and an abundant supply of potatoes and vegetables, but the moment he goes further, adieu to all comfort. If by great industry or some lucky circumstance he becomes possessed of as much money as will stock a farm well, then indeed he may indulge this propensity of all poor men; but mountain of all others is the place he should turn his thoughts to, and of which he may always procure any quantity on reasonable terms. Much has been said and written in England on the proper size of farms, and a great deal to very little purpose, but to expose their ignorance of the subject; the endeavouring to establish this agrarian system is something akin to the ridiculous proposals of some of our wise legislators to fix a maximum for the price of grain: how they would shake their noddles, if the farmers had meetings to fix the maximum of rent? The pocket can be the only barometer, and will settle the proper size of farms much better than these theoretical agriculturists: to hear such proposals in a country, where every man has the most unlimited control over the disposal of his property, is astonishing; I have touched on this subject in another place. 

Our farmers are generally very deficient in capital, and of course pursue a very deteriorating system of cropping; it is too much the custom, even when they do by the utmost household economy save a little money, to hoard it up, especially in guineas, instead of expending it on draining, or any other permanent improvement. I am confident, that since the last disturbances a great part of the gold coin of the realm is hid in smoky cabins. One of the great distinctions between Irish and English peasants is, in the Irishman appearing much poorer than he really is, (though he is poor enough,) and on the contrary the Englishman shewing in his habitation a degree of comfort he does not possess, merely from the superior cleanliness of his cottage and his family. Mr. Young, in his Tour in Ireland, vol. 2. part 2d, p. 33, Irish edition, makes this very just discrimination, and I believe it will be admitted, that few persons knew the habits of the English people better; he says, "But of this food (potatoes) there is one circumstance, which must ever recommend it; they have a bellyful, and that, let me add, is more than the superfluities of an Englishman leave to his family: let any person examine minutely into the receipt and expenditure of an English cottage, and he will find that tea, sugar, and strong liquors can come only from pinched bellies. I will not assert, that potatoes are a better food than bread and cheese; but I have no doubt of a bellyful of one (which the Irish almost always have) being much better than half a bellyful of the other; still less have I, that the milk of the Irishman is incomparably better than the small beer, gin, or tea of the Englishman, and this even for the father; how much better must it be for the poor infants? Milk to them is nourishment, is health, is life. If any one doubts the comparative plenty, which attends the poor natives of England and Ireland, let him attend to their meals: the sparingness, with which our labourer eats his bread and cheese, is well known; mark the Irishman’s potatoe-bowl placed on the floor, the whole family upon their hams around it, devouring a quantity almost incredible; the beggar seating himself to it with a hearty welcome; the pig taking his share as readily as the wife; the cocks, hens, turkeys, geese, the cur, the cat, and perhaps the cow, all partaking of the same dish. No man can often have been a witness to it without being convinced of the plenty, and, I will add, the cheerfulness, that attends it."* Again he says, p. 35; "An Irishman and his wife are much more solicitous to feed than to clothe their children; whereas in England it is surprising to see the expence they put themselves to, to deck out children, whose principal subsistence is tea. Very many of them in Ireland are so ragged, that their nakedness is scarcely covered; yet they are in health and active. As to the want of shoes and stockings I consider it as no evil, but a much more cleanly custom than the bestiality of stockings and feet, that are washed no oftener than those of our own poor. I remarked generally, that they were not ill dressed on Sundays and holydays, and that black or dark blue was almost the universal hue." Again in p. 36; "Their apparent poverty is greater than the real, for the house of a man, that is master of four or five cows, will scarce have any thing but deficiencies; nay, I was in the cabins of dairymen and farmers, not small ones, whose cabins were not at all better, or better furnished than those of the poorest labourer; before we therefore can attribute it to absolute poverty, we must take into the account the customs and inclinations of the people. In England a man’s cottage will be filled with superfluities, before he possesses a cow. I think the comparison much in favour of the Irishman; a hog is as much more valuable piece of goods than a set of tea-things; and though his snout in a crock of potatoes is an idea not so poetical as

—— Broken tea-cups, wisely kept for shew,

Raug’d o’er the chimney, glisten’d in a row,

Yet will the cottier and his family, at Christmas, find the solidity of it an ample recompense for the ornament of the other."

Frequently several persons join in the occupation of a farm, and have about ten acres each; but this wretched mode is wearing away fast; it is a perpetual source of uneasiness to both landlord and tenant.

According to the idea of farming in Leinster, there are but very few farmers in this county. In the county of Meath it is nothing uncommon for a farmer to have 100 acres of wheat, 100 acres of oats, and also 100 acres of unproductive fallow, besides meadow and grazing; we are informed, in the most excellent Survey of Meath by Mr. Thompson, that Mr. Brabazon Morris had at one time in his farm-yard, at Tankardstown near Navan, the produce of 700 acres of corn, and 100 acres of hay, and at his other farms the produce of 300 acres of hay and corn: it may be necessary to mention, that Mr. Morris is likewise one of the most extensive graziers in Meath.

Small farms generally yield more corn per acre than large ones, because the occupier almost always sows his corn in potatoe ground, that has been turned, and, what few great farmers do, pays attention to it whilst growing. That farms moderately large, and conducted on an improved system, are of more benefit to the public than small ones, I have not a doubt, and also to the proprietor, because he has usually more capital, and of course is able to lay out money in draining, liming, and otherwise improving his land; he has better implements, is able and inclined to give a high price for seed-corn of superior sample; and for a variety of other reasons, that daily experience will point out, but above all from his not fallowing, and from his cultivating green crops; unless he acts thus, the larger his farm, the more he loses.

It is very much the practice for graziers to occupy a great quantity of land, and in situations very remote from each other; it is utterly impossible, that these can be as productive as if occupied by resident tenants; every grazier must know, that his herd is usually a partner, and many must feel, that they would be much more comfortable, if they did less business, and probably with more net profit. It is not to be supposed, nor is it often the case, that any man has sufficient capital for this various and extensive line of business; to one description of men it is peculiarly profitable, I mean the discounters of Limerick and Ennis, who could throw much light on this subject.

Mr. Singleton occupies a large tract of corcass ground, above 1000 acres, besides much ground of inferior quality.

Mr. Colpoys occupies as much ground, in various places, as he pays upwards of 4000l. a year for.

Several other graziers possess great tracts of ground, especially in Burrin**.

Sir Edward O’Brien tills above 130 acres, which, for a county, where many rich graziers buy their oats and straw, is an uncommon quantity.

* This is much changed since that period; pigs, fowl, &c. are excluded, but the stranger is as welcome as ever.

** To shew how little some know of their distant farms, I have been well informed, that a Connaught grazier, on being asked to go and see a farm in Burrin, before he offered a rent for it, answered, "Not I by G—; I did not see it these thirty years, and probably never will."

Back to Statistical Survey of the County of Clare - Chapter 4