Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter V - Section 20

Quantity of bog and waste ground—the possibility and means of improving them, and the obstacles to their improvement

BOG forms in some baronies a very large part of the surface, principally in those of Tullagh, Moyferta, Ibrickan, and Clounderalaw; in the rocky barony of Burrin as great a scarcity prevails, in so much that they are obliged in the maritime parts to import turf from Cunnamara. In flat situations bog is many feet deep, but that produced on mountains is not generally so deep, running from one foot to four or five: the bogs are all capable of improvement, at a moderate expence, particularly those situated on mountains. In the baronies of Ibrickan and Moyferta there are several miles square of bog, reaching from near Kilrush to Dunbeg. As there is water carriage for boats of thirty or forty tons to the head of Poulanisherry harbour, near three miles from the Shannon, lime could be easily brought by the boats, that supply Limerick from that place with turf for fuel.

The limestone could be brought back from Askeaton and Aghenish, and laid down for about a shilling per ton in the midst of this region of bog; this, if the stone is good, will make about six barrels of lime; breaking the stone and burning 1d. per barrel; the fuel a mere trifle; so that, if the boat carries only thirty tons, two acres of ground may be reclaimed for ever by each cargo; calculations are always liable to error, but every person can make deductions or additions, as circumstances may direct. In the county of Wexford, lime is purchased with avidity at 3s. 9d. per ton, and drawn into the country twelve or fourteen miles, and frequently it is brought on horses’ backs; and we are informed in the Survey of Wexford, p. 97, "that the poor people on the borders of Mount Leinster have a journey to go for their lime, which occupies them two days. With a poor wretched horse they go in this manner to the lime-kilns, bringing a barrel of lime at a time; and this journey they repeat forty times, in order to bring forty barrels for manuring an acre of this land." Will it be believed in the county of Wexford, that a rich county of Clare farmer refused to draw it a mile on a good road, to improve a mountain farm, where he had turf to burn it on the spot, and nothing to be paid for the stone? 

Many would speculate on these bogs, but they are either leased, and thrown in as useless with other lands; or, where they are not leased, though acknowledged by the proprietors to be totally unproductive, and not worth a shilling an acre, yet these gentlemen, when applied to, will not give such lease as will encourage a monied man to venture his property on their improvement, nor will they improve them themselves; this dog in the manger disposition prevails in every part of Ireland, and has retarded the improvement of bog more than all other obstacles put together.

Between Cahirmurphy and Kilmaley many miles square are almost without inhabitants; in a ride of upwards of eight miles I saw only one bird, a kite; yet the greater part of this dreary waste could be cultivated, and the entire could be planted; if judiciously executed, and on a large scale, this could be done for a moderate sum, and would be an immense property in a few years. In the few spots, where the ground has been cultivated by some herds, excellent crops are produced.

In the barony of Tullagh many advances towards improvement have been made by small farmers propagating rape, but scarcely any one thinks of draining, or improving by a top- dressing of lime, limestone-gravel, or marle, which in many places are to be had in any quantity; but there is no improvement carried on by any person of property on a scale sufficiently large to deserve notice, nor have I indeed in any part of Ireland observed a systematic and steady pursuit of this valuable improvement; it has been a mere spurt, and probably would never have been thought of, if some professional man had not happened to come into the neighbourhood.

Shortly after the celebrated Mr. Elkington came to Ireland, we could hear of nothing but the absolute certainty of draining immense tracts of bog by means of a few auger-holes ; the bog of Allen was a mere trifle; but it was found, that the old method pursued by all those, who have made this their study, of intercepting the water from higher ground, was the chief mode adopted by him, and the auger only an occasional assistant; and what he complained of I have often experienced, that most Irish gentlemen soon grow tired of the expence, and expect that, the moment a bog is drained, it must become green; this it was, that disgusted Mr. Elkington with Irish gentlemen, who, he found, always had their ears open to some follower or wiseman of the old school, who constantly attended at their elbow, and set their faces against any new improvement they did not understand, or of which they were not the advisers.This Irish practice has gone so far in some places, as to oblige Mr. Hill, the intelligent drainer to the Farming Society of Ireland, to refuse to act where he will not be permitted to finish his drains by his own men; otherwise they would be stopped, from interested motives, the practice decried, and his character injured. I have frequently told a gentleman's wiseman what I intended to do for the improvement of the improvement of the place, (I detest the idea of professional secrets,) and next day, in walking over the ground with both parties, I have heard my ideas detailed with great composure, as the production of his own brain, and poor I was thrown completely into the shade, whilst at dinner the master exulted in having such a clever man; disgust would not let me come to any explanation, and I have generally left them to enjoy each other.

It is curious to hear the objections made to the drainage of bogs; frequently it is said by those, whose education should give them more enlightened ideas, that it would be impossible to drain some bogs, that it would take half a century to drain them, that they never would repay the expence, with numberless objections equally groundless. I never saw a bog, that could not be drained, otherwise it would be a lake; the chief difficulty lies in obtaining the consent of different proprietors to join in the drainage, or permit a cut to be made through their ground; and, until an act of parliament is obtained to oblige proprietors of land to permit an outlet to be cut through their lands, on paying the damage, to be ascertained by a jury, extensive drainages or irrigation will never be effected. I beg leave to press this on the comprehensive mind of the Right Hon. Mr. Foster, as one of great national benefit, as it is highly probable, that extensive speculations will be made on this most necessary improvement in a country possessing so many hundred thousand acres of bog and mountain. To improve bogs on a large scale, companies must be formed, and something like the mode of conducting canals must be pursued, and permanent sets of men constantly employed; the petty mode at present pursued, where perhaps at the most ten acres are drained in a season, (with no small share of exultation even on this patch,) will not alter the face of the country for several centuries. The bog of Allen, containing between two and three hundred thousand acres, forms but a small part of those of Ireland. I have been furnished with many statements, aided by my own experience, of the expence and profit of this improvement in various parts of Ireland; and the general result has been, that, at least in the third year, often the first, all expenses are paid, and land, for which no rent could be obtained, has become worth from one to two guineas per acre. It is astonishing, that monied men, who are daily on the watch to purchase land, should be so blind to their own interest and to that of their posterity, as to lay out money at six per cent., often less, instead of improving their own bogs, absolutely creating land, and receiving at least ten per cent. for money, which they have in their pockets.

When a monied man is about to purchase an estate, instead of procuring the assistance of some person of skill in land and its capabilities to view it, as practised in England, and point out where perhaps great improvement may be made at a moderate expense, being totally ignorant of the quality of land himself, he perhaps employs some person, who knows more about drawing leases than draining ground, to inspect it; the report being favourable, and the title clear, he closes the bargain, leaving the improvement of the estate to those, who from want of either means or skill, or perhaps of a lease of sufficient length, leave that ground, which under a judicious drainage, and gravelling or liming, might be made of ten times its present value, a mere caput mortuum at the termination of the lease; and to encrease the evil, perhaps one thousand acres of bog or mountain are thrown in with the farm as of no value, which perhaps an expenditure of 500l. would make worth annually 1000l., and the crops cultivated during the improvement, very probably, would pay much more than all the expences; whilst in the hands of the tenant it produces little or no profit to him, nor rent to the landlord.

A considerable quantity of turf is brought from Poulanisherry to Limerick, though a water carriage of upwards of forty miles; for this purpose, immense ricks are always ready on the shore; sometimes the boats bring back limestone from Askeaton or Aghnish, but merely for the purpose of those buildings, that are advancing so rapidly in Kilrush; none is brought for the improvement of the improvement of the immense bogs, from which they dig the turf. It is a curious circumstance that, within a few yards of the rocky shore at Spanish point near Miltown Malbay, several feet of good turf may be cut, and equally so, that long before this it has not been reclaimed by the sand, which is within a few perches of it.

Although very great quantities of ground have been taken from the Shannon and Fergus, including all the rich corcasses, yet a very large portion still remains under the dominion of the water; Sir Edward O'Brien and Mr. Colpoys have it in contemplation to embank upwards of one hundred acres; I saw the ground, and do not entertain a doubt of its practicability, the water, I understand, not rising more than about seven feet in spring tides. It is to be hoped that, when they do reclaim it, it will not be in the same wretched, unstable, unscientific manner, that such works are usually effected here; they will also, I trust, make the necessary preparations for depositing the sediment of the rich waters of the Shannon and the Fergus, as practised with such great success in England, where it is called warping or silting, by which in a very short period they would raise the surface of the ground many feet higher than it is at present, and greatly facilitate the drainage. The word warping is applied in agriculture to describe that species of irrigation, which deposits a quantity of sediment from the flowing tide, and which forms a stratum of soil or manure, when the waters have receded from it. This definition of the word appears to be chiefly limited to tide-water flowing from the sea, though the nature of the accumulation seems to be nearly the same with the siltage of fresh water rivers, the redundancy of which, by way of distinction, is called flooding. The expence of warping will be greatly influenced by the situation of the lands, and the course and distance, which the warp is to be conducted. The expence per acre will depend greatly on the extent of land, which may be overflowed by one and the same set of drains and cloughs. Mr. Day of Doncaster thinks, that great quantities of land may be warped at so small an expence as from four to eight pounds per English acre; and he states the advantages gained at various rates, from five to fifty pounds per acre, and considers the greatest advantage to arise from warping the worst and most porous land. Mr. Young, in his Survey of Lincoln, says, "the warp raises the ground in one summer from six to eighteen inches thick, and in hollow, or low places, two, three, or four feet, so as to leave the whole piece level." For a further account of this valuable improvement, see my Observations on the County of Dublin Survey, page 89 of the Appendix. It is necessary to remark, that the expense of executing this work in England includes the embankment as well as everything else; but, as Sir Edward O'Brien and Mr. Colpoys mean to do this without any reference to warping, it should not be charged to that improvement, but merely the expence of two sluices, perhaps 5s. per acre.

The bog and lake of Fenlow could be easily drained and improved, by deepening a small stream, that runs to Ballycar; but, though the proprietors have offered almost a carte blanche to the owner of the stream, he obstinately persists in a refusal; the stream is so very insignificant, that for the greater part of the year it would scarcely supply a grist or tuck-mill; yet a flour-mill on a large scale is in contemplation, and can never succeed, whilst the river Ougarnee is so very near. Can any thing point out more plainly the necessity of an act to oblige proprietors of ground to permit drains for the general accommodation to run through their grounds? If canal companies had been left to the caprice or ill nature of individuals, we should not at this day have one of these noble works in either Ireland or England.

The great scene of improvement, (and which shews, what tenants will do when they get leases on moderate terms,) are the mountains between Killaloe and Broadford; the soil is a thin argillaceous one, on slate, mostly covered with short heath; it is usually let by the bulk to tenants, who have improved ground adjoining; they generally divide them into small farms, and let them at an advance rent after they have improved them; for which purpose they commonly burn the surface, (if the landlord is not weak enough to prevent it,) and lime or marle, and plant potatoes; then a crop of barley for the private stills, after that a crop of oats; by this time they have accumulated manure, and begin to plant their potatoes in drills. It has become frequent lately, from the great increase of population, to give small portions of their grounds to sons and daughters on their marriage. It is, with a few exceptions, the only place in the county, where the cottagers have every appearance and reality of comfort and cleanliness; their cottages are generally well thatched, and frequently whitewashed, or at least the chimney, and always have half-doors to hang on in the day time, to keep out pigs, &c. &c., with cow-houses and pig-styes. How very different from the grazing parts of the county, where poverty and filth may always be seen in great perfection, even at the very gates of many wealthy graziers! I am inclined to attribute something deleterious to the grazing system; look to all the rich lands in Ireland; do we not see in the proprietors the same indifference to the comforts of the cottiers? In the mountains above-mentioned Mr. Arthur of Glenomera obliges his tenants to lime, at the rate of sixty or eighty barrels per acre; the lime is brought from Donass, a distance of six miles, and costs the enormous sum of from 2s. 2d. to 2s. 6d. per barrel, bad measure. I suppose Mr. Arthur either allows them for the lime, or gives them the land on such terms as to encourage this expenditure. The harvest began here this year (1807) on the first of September, and was most abundant; and, contrary to the usual complaint of mountain oats, it ripened all together; this may be justly attributed to the effect of calcareous manures. In the mountains near Skarriff they lime and marl, but not with the spirit they do near Broadford. This may in some measure be accounted for; they have all bishop's leases, a species of tenure, that paralyses every exertion. Captain Hugh Brady allows his tenants any quantity of mountain, rent free, for twenty years, and also 30s. per acre for lime. The value of this manure is now becoming so well known, that the mountaineers carry it from O' Callaghan's mills, upwards of six miles. 

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