Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton


HAD I not considered myself bound to fulfil my promise to the Dublin Society, this Survey of the County of Clare would never have been published; that ungracious, illiberal silence, with regard both to the hundreds of letters I wrote, and to the reiterated verbal applications I made, (and which to the disgrace of Ireland is complained of in almost every Survey, that has been published,) would otherwise have urged me, at an early period, to decline all further progress. Some, to whom I applied, (whose rank in life should have placed them above such gross ignorance,) asked me what a Survey was, what was it about, &c. and some very wittily wished to know, was it to take an account of all the pigs in Ennis or Killaloe, or the number of turf-kishes in the streets of Ennis, with a multitude of other remarks equally sagacious and liberal. With the most sanguine hopes of success I wrote and applied to many of the clergy, who from their local knowledge, liberal education, habit of putting their thoughts on paper, and great leisure, were, I fondly imagined, perfectly competent to give me the fullest information. The only written answers I received are detailed in the work; I need not disgust the reader with a repetition. Had I the good fortune to have found the majority of the clergy as liberal as the Rev. Mr. Graham, curate of Kilrush, the Survey would make a very different appearance, and would be more free from those errors, which must, I deplore, be found in the work. Were I possessed of that useful confidence of the son of a celebrated agricultural author, who was in this county from England a few years since, I might possibly have gleaned more information; but, as I found at an early period, that his queries were usually ridiculed, and his manner of stopping a person, whilst at dinner, until he took his notes, not at all relished, and that a preconcerted plan had been laid by some gentlemen to humbug him, it became necessary to use some caution in taking notes, indeed on agricultural subjects very few notes would suffice, for they occupied the least of the conversation after dinner, and any questions to that effect were either evaded, or received so coolly that I generally desisted.

To simplify the business as much as possible, the queries are divided into fifty-two parts, and in such plain language, that the most ignorant farmer in the county could comprehend them. I was weak enough to imagine that, when I produced my commission from the Dublin Society, I would have been favoured with half an hour’s conversation, whilst I took notes of their answers, but this I found very few inclined to do. To many eminent graziers I applied for information on the interesting subject of cattle, but I soon discovered I was not to expect much but praises of their own breed, accompanied with illiberal remarks (which they thought very witty) on the Farming Society of Ireland. They seemed to be totally ignorant of the distinctions between the different breeds of animals; no discrimination, no knowledge of the value of green food, &c. &c. in short they could listen to nothing, or talk of nothing but their own breed (certainly a very good one); size, size, size, was every thing, and an encrease of that seemed to be the only desideratum. I am perfectly convinced that, if a pair of long horns could be placed on the big head of a thick-limbed Holderness bull, he would be preferred to the Marquis of Sligo’s Brown Jack.

To the few following gentlemen, who interested themselves, I feel every grateful sentiment; Sir Edward O’Brien, Boyle Vandeleur, Esq. Bindon Blood, Esq. Robert Crowe, Esq. of Nutfield, (not Mr. Crowe, agent to the Marquis of Thomond and the Earl of Egremont) Francis Owen, Esq. and Mr. Kenny of Newmarket. Mr. Crowe and Mr. Owen were so kind as to give me in writing much valuable information, and my readers have cause to join me in the regret, which I feel, that I had not the pleasure of knowing Mr. Crowe sooner. Several other gentlemen I teazed into something like information, but as a horse-laugh frequently accompanied it, I considered it apocryphal. At a very early period Mr. Molony of Kiltannon, who formerly had undertaken the survey, promised to give me copious written answers to my queries, but after various promises I found it was vox et praeterea nihil. Such of the Roman Catholic clergy, as I applied to, I found even anxious to procure me every information, and I feel a singular gratification in acknowledging the urbanity, with which the Rev. Mr. Barret, titular Dean of Killaloe, conveyed much valuable information. 

I have also great pleasure in stating the extreme readiness I found in the farmers and lower classes of society to give me in detail many things their landlords seemed to be totally ignorant of. I regret to have to remark, that with a few exceptions the gentlemen of this county, in common with too many of those of some other counties, neither know, nor seem to care much, how their cottier tenants live, so as they come to work, when they are wanted; the occupation of their other hours is never inquired after; I found the men of this class infinitely more intelligent than those in a higher sphere.

On perusing the suggestions for enquiry, published by the Dublin Society for the direction of those, who may undertake the Surveys of Ireland, it will be easily perceived, what a complicated and arduous task they have committed into their hands, and what an active co-operation of the inhabitants of the counties is necessary to enable them to convey such information, as will enable the Dublin Society to draw up a general statistical report of Ireland. One would scarcely think it possible, yet so it is, that any person could be weak enough to imagine, that mere curiosity could prompt a Society, that have for upwards of sixty years devoted their attention so very happily to the advancement of agriculture and other useful sciences, to institute this inquiry. When we advert to the many branches of science, that are embraced, including mineralogy, botany, political economy, that most difficult one agriculture, a knowledge of cattle, &c. &c. so far from expecting any thing like perfection, we should be surprized, if every Report was not much farther removed from it than they are, especially when it is known, that in almost every Survey, that has been published, complaints are made of withholding information, and of that most unpardonable, ungentlemanlike insult of neglecting to acknowledge letters; no rank in life warrants this meanness. Even in the last Survey, that has been published, that of the county of Kildare, though written by a gentleman, possessing from his high respectability of character and fortune, as well as from his being treasurer of the county, and a constant resident, every influence, that should entitle him to attention to his letters, yet what are his words in the preface? "He had hundreds of letters printed and circulated, stating the desires of the Society, and requesting communications on the subjects committed to him; he has not to acknowledge the smallest information." After this I can scarcely have a right to complain of the gross neglect, with which my applications have been treated; I trust and hope I shall not have the same complaint to make of the gentlemen of the county of Galway, amongst whom I expect a continuance of that politeness and intelligence, which I have formerly experienced; I have no fears on this head from the inhabitants of that county.

Many may deem some of my strictures too severe, especially those on road-jobbing, and on tithes and the clergy. The enormity of the first is so great, that I would ill deserve the confidence the Dublin Society have honoured me with, if I declined the task, and I hope it will be believed, when I profess it has been to me a most disagreeable one. If I have stated any thing erroneous on the other subjects, it must be imputed to that ignorance, in which the silence of the clergy has left me. From those few worthy and truly reverend clergymen of this county, whose good opinion is worth obtaining, I have no fears for any thing I have written, and the anger of those, who could be influenced by the veto of a layman, and who preach that christian charity, which they do not practise, I heartily despise. I never can be brought to think (as too many of them seem to do) that a monotonous, cold-hearted sermon once a week is the only duty they have to perform, or that it will ever make a protestant divine beloved or respected. I trust those, to whom I am known, will exonerate me from that infidelity, which has been generally imputed to those, who have dared to meddle with the clergy, however profane. I hope it will be allowed, that a firm belief in the glorious truths of the gospel is not incompatible with a detestation of the vices of some of its professors.

It has been urged by more than one, that I have not made personal applications. It unfortunately often happened, that at a time I could have waited on many gentleman they were far from home. Sometimes I have been informed, that they had a house full of company, and in a county possessing only three or four tolerable inns, and in remote situations not any, visits without a previous intimation were very hazardous. From some of these very complainants I received no answer to my letters to say, when they would be at home; in fact from what I have experienced I can consider these accusations in no other light than as an excuse for indolence. 

Amongst many others I made a personal application to Mr. Young near Quin, explaining the nature of my pursuits (I was introduced to him twice before) and requesting information; his only answer, after hesitating some time and a vacant stare, was humph! and he very politely stepped into his coach box, and drove his family home from the church of Quin, where I had the misfortune to disturb his reveries. 

I have purposely avoided the description of gentlemen’s seats; I certainly could not, like the Post chaise companion, see beauties in every petty place, that the partiality of their proprietors prompted them to do; were I to describe the very few places, that are really pretty, I should throw so many into the back ground, that I thought it prudent to be silent. The riches of the county certainly have not been lavished on the ornament or improvement of demesnes; more has been done in the county of Galway in ten years than here for half a century. I beg leave to advise gentlemen, before they begin to improve, to procure the very tasteful superintendance of Mr. Roach, and not pursue their own whims, which they dignify with the name of taste.

On the fruitful subjects of irrigation and draining I was obliged to be concise; their importance in this county, where they are scarcely known, is very great indeed; they would, if conducted with judgment and spirit, change the features of those dreary absentee tracts, that occupy so large a portion of the county, to smiling harvests and verdant fields.

Next to the improvement of the soil the mineral productions claim the marked attention of the proprietors; those of the first necessity have been discovered in great abundance, such as coal, iron, lead, manganese, limestone, &c. but the puny attempts, that have been formerly made by sinking a few feet, will never bring to light those treasures, that a bountiful providence has placed on the sea-shore; they must be confided to scientific hands, that will not be paralised by unsteadiness or parsimony in the employer.

The necessary limits to a work of this nature prevented me from saying more on the subject of planting; had I indulged my wishes on this favourite and (in this county) neglected topic, a volume much larger than the whole Survey would not contain my ideas, especially when I reflected on its great importance to a county so completely denuded as Clare.

It must be evident to the most superficial observer, that many other subjects; particularly those of green crops, ploughing, liming, improvement of waste lands, &c. &c. in all which this county is miserably deficient, could not consistently with propriety be more enlarged; for, notwithstanding what has been already written by English agriculturists, the subject is by no means exhausted.

A gentleman of this county formerly objected to my appointment to make the Survey, and called me the Arthur Young of Ireland. I feel myself so infinitely removed from any pretensions to the celebrity of that great and useful agriculturist, that, had it been intended as a compliment, I should have considered it too gross for acceptance; but, as it was intended as a reproach, I feel proud in being joined with one, who has so ably detailed the abuses of middleman, and their oppression of the lower classes of society; on these topics I claim kindred with Mr. Young, to whom I owe much for making me think on many points in agriculture, that would otherwise have escaped my attention, and, as Mr. Kirwan says, "to whose labours the world is more indebted for the diffusion of agricultural knowledge than to any writer, who has yet appeared."

It is extraordinary, how little interest the gentlemen of this county, and indeed of every other in Ireland, take in any publication intended to promote the improvement of their country. I do not think there are three houses in the county, that have any of the Statistical Reports; one would imagine, that even curiosity to see, what was doing in other counties, would prompt them to obtain them; indeed, except Talpin’s Farriery, Glasse’s Cookery, and Maw’s Calendar, I scarcely ever saw a book but in the houses of the few, who have seen the world; the generality are as ignorant of the practices of the next county as they are of those of Russia. With the greatest difficulty the author of a Survey will sell perhaps two or three hundred copies, whilst such ephemeral productions as Cotchecutchoo, the Metropolis, &c. shall run through several thousand copies and several editions; so much more profitable is it for an author to amuse than instruct. A dancing master of eminence will receive three or four guineas per day, paid with pleasure, whilst an improver of land shall with a grudge be paid half-a-guinea. I was advised to try the pulse of the county by receiving subscriptions in Ennis; the experiment was tried on a fair day, when all the men of any property were assembled and though a gentleman universally known and respected was so kind as to make personal applications, and the subscription book remained open for upwards of three months, twenty-eight persons! subscribed their names, and sixteen paid their subscriptions. 

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