Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter V - Section 21

Habits of industry, or want of it amongst the people

HABITS of industry are chiefly confined to the lower order of farmers and cottiers; great exertions are often made by this class in removing stones, and collecting manure, too often from the sides of the roads. The women in the neighbourhood of Corrofin and Innistymon are remarkably industrious, I wish I could say cleanly; you will scarcely ever see one of them without a stocking in her hand, which she continues to knit whilst walking a quick pace to market; and even in the market-house, whilst selling or buying, her fingers are never idle. Almost all the wool made into frize for the family is spun by the wife or daughters; their linen is also generally made at home. As to the industry of the wealthy graziers, it may be generally seen about their houses; it is not unfrequent, that a man, who pays 2000l. a year rent, has scarcely a gate or fence about his house, a very indifferent garden, with nothing in it but cabbages; often no cow-house; a collar to tie up a horse in a stable is a rarity, and in summer oats or hay are equally so. The industry of the upper classes consists more in accumulating farm to farm, and dashing in full gallop from one to the other, than in a steady improvement of what they have already, though vastly more lucrative. The streets of Ennis are often crowded with young loungers, that had much better stay at home and endeavour to redeem or at least improve that property, which the prodigality, or want of industry, of their ancestors has either deprived them of or encumbered; it would surely be more beneficial and amusing than the annoying the different shopkeepers with their "bald disjointed chat." * 

"There are many middlemen remaining in this county, whose habitations and land may be easily found by every mark of indolence; such of the windows, as are not stopped to evade the tax, are small, with the few panes of glass remaining either broken or their place supplied by paper, or boards, or perhaps a rag or wisp of straw or hay; the inside corresponds with the outer appearance; decayed stairs, doors, and chimneys; the ceilings of thin boards blackened by smoke and dirt. The farm bears the same disgusting appearance; the gates and fences in ruin; his pastures and meadows bearing more rushes than grass, and the meadows grazed until June; his stock perhaps a cow or two, with as many half starved horses: it will scarcely be credited, that men of this description have incomes of from 100l. to 500l. a year arising from the industry of poor cottiers." The gentleman, who was so kind as to favour me with the above faithful picture, very justly calls them the drones of society. Yet these are the men, to whom the great landed absentee proprietors are fond of setting their lands, in preference to a tenantry, who, however deficient in skill or capital, always pay more, and with greater punctuality than these pests of society. Where a middleman takes waste ground, and, after improving it, relets it in divisions according to each man's capital, and lives on the land, shewing by his example the most beneficial course of crops, encouraging his tenants by procuring for them on reasonable terms grass-seeds and corn of the best kinds, and keeping for their use males of every species of useful animal, then he becomes one of the most beneficial members of the community; but such exceptions I fear are very few. It is painful to state that, if this last improving tenant's lease expired, the former wretch, on giving 1d. an acre more, would get the preference; the highest bidder gets every thing from absentees, totally ignorant of what is going forward on their estates: and I presume to think, that a visit, and close inspection of their estates in Ireland, would not only redound to their credit but to the increase of their rent-role.

It is the fashion of the gentlemen of this county to accuse the labourers of want of industry, and of laziness; when they are working for themselves, there is no appearance of it; indeed, when working for others, at the low rates of wages they receive, they are like all men of the same class throughout Ireland; they will do as little as they can. In my professional pursuits I have had men of every county in Ireland working under me, and I have found, that the inhabitants of this county, and of Galway, do more work, and without that sulkiness and familiar impertinence (not proceeding from ignorance) of those in the neighbourhood of Naas, in the county of Kildare, and of Athboy, in the county of Meath, the former of whom got nine shillings per week, and were constantly on the watch to take every advantage; in short they were never satisfied with any thing.

The hurling matches, called goals, are very injurious to the morals and industry of the younger classes; after performing feats of activity, that would astonish a bread and cheese Englishman, they too often adjourn to the whiskey-house, both men and women, and spend the night in dancing, singing, and drinking until perhaps morning, and too often quarrels and broken heads are the effects of this inebriety; matches are often made between the partners at the dance; but it frequently happens they do not wait for the priest's blessing, and the fair one must apply to a magistrate, who generally obliges the faithless Strephon to make an honest woman of her. On the strand of Lehinch races for saddles and bridles are run almost every Sunday in summer, and the night generally concludes with dancing and drunkenness; they are become a great nuisance to those of the inhabitants, who are christians.

In general the people are remarkably peaceable, travelling at night being equally safe as in the day.

* Since writing the above, a coffee-room and billiard-table have been added to their amusements, which have taken a good many out of the streets.

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