Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter IV - Section 9

Nature of manures

LIMESTONE-GRAVEL, that inestimable manure, is to be had in a great variety of places, and is used in a few; but there is not that use made of it, that its value deserves. Lime also, which can be had in the greater part of this county, is but little used. I suggested to a gentleman the great benefit he would receive by using it copiously on a mountain farm he was reclaiming; he seemed astonished I should propose such an expensive mode, for he would be obliged to draw the lime very near half a mile. Limestone was discovered by Mr. Donald Stewart some years since in the mountains of Slieve-on-Oir, on the estate of Henry Molony, Esq., yet I dare say, that to this day no use is made of it, and it is highly probable Mr. Molony never heard of any such thing. Mr. O’Brien of Cratilow has used a good deal of lime with great effect. Mr. O’Sullivan of Limerick allows his tenants on a farm, which he rents from Mr. Fitzgibbon, near Bridgetown, 3l. 5s. per acre for liming with sixty barrels; hear this ye proprietors of estates, who will neither lime yourselves, nor encourage your tenants to do what a spirited citizen of Limerick has done. Astonishing improvements have been made in the neighbourhood of Killaloe, especially in the mountains between that and Broadford, by means of marle, inexhaustible quantities of which may be procured in the Shannon. It is raised by boats, and drawn into heaps on the shore, where it generally lies until dry, and at leisure times is drawn to the land; about fifty loads are used to the acre. The course of crops after this manure is usually; 1st, potatoes; 2d, barley; 3d, oats; 4th oats; then manure again, and pursue nearly the same wretched course: some variation does occur; they sometimes sow a crop of wheat, and perhaps two of potatoes in succession, but in general the first is the favourite course, perhaps with the addition of one or two crops of oats. An ancestor of Mr. Head of Derry was the first, who introduced the practice of dredging for it in deep water. The effects of this valuable manure in the production of the finest crops, added to the beauty of the undulating surface, and fine views of the Shannon and opposite country, render the ride from Broadford to Killaloe highly interesting. Marle has been used with great effect near Kilnooney, where it is raised in the valley near the old church, but it is not esteemed so much as that raised in the Shannon; it has also been raised between Feacle and Loughgraney in the barony of Tullagh. It is probable it may be found in many other places, but this is not the county for agricultural exertions. 

A large and valuable mass of limestone occurs in the middle of the town of Toomgraney, but, though it is a nuisance, little or no use is made of it as a manure, although it is the very kind, that is wanting on the adjoining mountains*.

Sea-sand has been used with great effect by Mr. Morony near Miltown-Malbay, and by many others near the sea-coast in great quantities; it was not so much valued, until one proprietor of the shore charged five shillings for every hundred loads, and another a guinea, since which the demand has encreased; but that system, of running out the land after a manuring, (and which is the ruin of the agriculture of Ireland), is always pursued here; about 300 loads are used to the acre, which will be sometimes drawn about a mile for 16s. 3d.

Sea-weed (different varieties of algæ) is another valuable manure, of which large quantities are used for potatoes, followed by a crop of barley or wheat; it is frequently brought up the Fergus by boats to Ennis, and carried into the country upwards of four miles; it costs about four guineas per acre; the potatoes are usually planted first, and get this first covering, and by degrees, as the weed can be drawn, it is spread over this, and covered by a second spitting and shovelling; when they have the weed in time, they plant the potatoes on it at once.

Ashes, procured by burning the surface of ground, form a very large share of the manure of the county, especially of small farmers and cottiers; if they could be persuaded to crop lightly, and cultivate alternate green crops, this method of procuring manure would be a blessing to the country; but at present it is only the prelude to the most exhausting and disgraceful system, that could possibly be pursued, and in which even men of good education and ample means of instruction outvie even the most ignorant peasant.

The high prices given for rape-seed for some years back have induced many, even poor farmers, to break up moory ground and bog for this purpose, but scarcely have they ever thought of draining it; and in a few years, from this neglect, and not using any calcareous substances, it reverts to its original state of unproductiveness: I have seen many situations, where a few shillings would have accomplished this, but they had no resident landlord or enlightened agent to direct them. The farmers and cottiers are perfectly sensible of the value of manures, and therefore use great exertions to procure them, frequently to the very great injury of the high roads, the sides of which they generally dig away, and form deep trenches on each side, whilst the magistrates and conservators ride carelessly by. For potatoes they also in some places make much use of a plant they call coonagh, which they gather, after the water has retired from lakes and turloughs; it is usually carried on the backs of women, boys, and girls, and lasts for only one crop. 

But the manure of all others the most beneficial, the most permanent, and that can be had at the least expence, and most certain in its effects, is irrigation; yet it is scarcely known. Sir Edward O'Brien has lately prepared some ground for watering according to the expensive Gloucestershire method, and is now enlarging his designs. The Rev. Frederick Blood has laid out some ground for this purpose, also Mr. George Adams, which he mows twice every year; Mr. William Adams has formerly made some random efforts, but abandoned it. I laid out a small field for Bindon Blood, Esq. at Riverston; it was the worst of his ground, and though he set the farm, before I had an opportunity of cutting off the water from the mountain, that injured it greatly, yet the produce was astonishing, though it got only the water of February and March; and though confessed so by the present tenant, yet anything new being considered by him as an innovation, and a thing our fathers did very well without, he regrets greatly, that the levels are not all filled in, and, to shew his contempt for such new fangled whims, has not turned a drop of water on them this winter (1807), and, I am informed, does intend not to do so any more. There are very few parts of the county, especially the eastern and western districts, that could not take advantage of this blessing. Mr. Molony of Kiltannon, and Captain Brown, who possess large tracts of mountain in the barony of Tullagh, which they now set for half-a-guinea an acre, probably much less, could, from the abundant supply, irrigate several hundred acres, and, instead of half-a-guinea, make their ground worth at least four guineas an acre, and at a very moderate expence, probably not more than three guineas per acre. On Lord Conyngham's and Mr. Westby's estates great improvements might be made, but the finest situation I have any where seen is the mountain of Callan (I believe the Marquis of Thomond's or Lord Conyngham's estate); there, the supply of water is equal to many hundred acres, but the proprietor knows little of the capabilities of his estate, nor indeed does any gentleman, that I have met with; they seem perfectly satisfied, pursuing the old dog-trot method of their grandfathers, with that rise in their rent-roll, which fortuitous circumstances have made. If the proprietors of land were aware of the value of this improvement, and with what ease they might accomplish it, they would not let such sources of wealth flow unheeded to the Shannon, or the Atlantic ocean, and, instead of considering the streams from the mountains a nuisance, (as they are with their neglect,) they would find them one of the most certain and profitable sources of emolument in the whole range of agricultural improvements. The expence of this great improvement is usually very moderate, and, once accomplished, it nearly ceases, for one man can attend a large tract of it; the effects of the best manure are soon worn out, but this, for less than the cost of one manuring, lasts for ever, and is much more valuable than the richest dunging. It is necessary to caution those, who have an inclination to adopt this improvement, that their ground must be free from small ridges, and that, the nearer it approaches to an inclined plane, the more perfect the improvement will be, and executed at much less expence; but I would advise them not to think of it, unless they are determined not to listen to their old-light friends and interested stewards, who usually set their faces against the adoption of any improvement they do not understand, and of which they are not the first movers, and to abandon all idea of it, if they will not go through with it with spirit and steadiness; half measures will answer no purpose but to bring the practice into disrepute, lose money, and gratify ignorance and prejudice. In the many places, in which I have conducted this favourite branch of my profession, I have found, that very few have acted either with credit to me, or regard to their own interest; they very soon grew tired of the expence, and were put out of conceit by their wise-man or some very wise friend, and left off when they should have gone on: even after the work had been finished it has been totally neglected, and one gentleman near Dublin complains, that "watering was of little use to his land;" yet, except the first season, not a drop of water has been turned on the land since it was finished, upwards of seven years ago.

As lime is generally the only manure, that is carried to any distance, it becomes an object to have it well burned, and carried in that state, as it is much lighter; good limestone loses about one-third of its weight in burning, and, as three hundred weight of good stone will make about a barrel of lime, a great saving in the carriage may be made. The kilns of this country are generally very badly built; they are usually too wide at the mouth, and too shallow, which helps to consume too much fuel; they should be made half as wide in the middle as they are high, and the width of the mouth should be one-fourth, or less, of the height; a kiln twelve feet high, and six feet wide at the belly, will, if properly attended, burn about sixteen barrels each day. A man can make good wages at 1½d. per barrel for breaking and burning, if the stones are laid down for him at the kiln; this is a much better method than breaking by the day, but he must be watched, to oblige him to break the stone small enough. When lime-kilns are constructing, great care should be taken that they are built substantially, and well backed with sand, to prevent the heat from escaping; sand answers this purpose much better than clay or earth of any kind, as it does not, by sometimes shrinking, and sometimes swelling, form chinks, which are frequently seen in kilns, and seem to be unheeded. Every lime-kiln should have a parapet wall, to prevent the wind from affecting the burning; dry stone-work, or even sods will answer, and, if a conical covering was erected, it would not only save fuel, but would prevent the bursting of kilns of this shape, when they are not drawn, before heavy rains fall, which frequently happens; if not drawn immediately, they should be carefully covered. Robert St. George, Esq. of the county of Kilkenny, has adopted a kiln of a very different shape from the above; it is a cylinder of ten feet on a small pointed cone of five feet; it burned twenty-five barrels of lime in the same time, that one of the usual oval kilns burned only twenty-one barrels; it was found easier to burn the stone in it, and much more easily drawn, the lime falling quickly, whilst it adhered to the sides of the others; a plate representing this kiln may be seen in the Survey of Kildare lately published.

* Two very large thorns, and a large lime, grow out of the fissures of these rocks quite exposed to the western breeze, and to all appearance growing without any earth.

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