Improvements in Ireland

[From the Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 15, October 6, 1832]

We have more than once called the attention of our readers to the capabilities of Ireland—we now again call their attention to it, in the description of a neglected tract of country which we take from Mr. Bryan's Practical View of Ireland.

"A circle of twenty miles diameter, having Abbeyfeale for its centre, forms a portion of the great group of hills between the Shannon and the Blackwater, which are situated on the confines of the counties of Cork, Limerick, and Kerry; which group occupies 640 square miles Irish, and are all nearly of the same character.

"Abbeyfeale, in the centre of this tract, is a village in the county of Limerick, on the east bank of the river Feale. It has 440 inhabitants. This village being six miles north of the junction of three counties, the circle would extend four miles southward into Cork; and being close to the boundary of Kerry, extends ten miles westward into that county, and ten miles eastward into Limerick. Near its circumference are situated the towns of Castleisland, Newcastle, Shanagolden, Glin, Tarbert, and Listowel; this last is eight miles distant, the others from ten to twelve; and there is no resident gentleman, except a few in the immediate vicinity of the towns above mentioned, and below the basis of the hills.

"The mineral productions, so far as they have been discovered, do not excite much interest; the hills are of the "coal formation;" highly indurated sandstone and black slate clay, of various degrees of hardness. On the rocks several beds of culm have been discovered, and some of them worked; but those already wrought seldom exceed twelve inches in thickness, and dip at a steep angle. These circumstances, together with the unskilful mode of working, render the expense of raising the culm considerable, and the demand is not great, on account of an abundant supply of turf in all parts. Limestone is the rock on which all those hills rest, and it is found all round them, at the base of the group, and in many places towards the south in the interior.

"The outline of the hills within the circle is tame and uninteresting. The rock is covered with a coat of clay from three to thirty feet in thickness formed of the course of the decomposed debris of the rocks, which lie beneath, and contain the two ingredients, argil and silex, with scarcely any mixture of lime; towards the summits of the hills, and even a good way down their sides, the clay is covered with peat or bogs, generally from six inches to three feet in thickness, which produces heath, and a few species of coarse grass. Further down, approaching the valleys, there is no bog, but a vegetable soil, part of which is tilled, and produces good crops of oats and potatoes; where lime has been applied, the produce is three or four fold, and in some instances ten times the quantity has been obtained.

"More than three-fourths of this tract has never been cultivated, and the whole affords great natural advantages to the improver, whether his object is agriculture or manufacture.

"The average height of these hills being about 1000 feet above the level of the sea, they are not too high for luxuriant vegetation. The bog, however, which forms the surface at present, if left alone and unmixed with any other substance, is nearly barren; the clay which lies beneath is entirely so; but if the light bog were drained and dug up, and some of the clay substratum got up and mixed with it, along with a proper proportion of lime, a very superior vegetable soil may be made on every perch of the whole surface, and acres of barren heath may be made to produce the finest oats, potatoes, or hay; so the agriculturalist having the substratum to form a basis for his soil, and the peat for vegetable manure, on the spot, wants only to bring lime to decompose that manure, and to employ labour, in order to convert the wild haunts of the grouse into a productive field for human sustenance.

"A circle of twenty miles diameter is 201,062 Irish acres. It is allowed that a well cultivated acre will support five persons; in the present instance admit it will support them; and if three-fourths of the above quantity be in the state of nature, the land now waste could by industry be made capable of maintaining 452,390 persons, or nearly half a million. Here might the labour of emigrants be well directed at home, which is now in active operation clearing the wastes of America, if advantage were taken of resources which our own country possesses.

"The manufacturers will here find advantages not less interesting: a constant supply of water in the Feale, the Smerla, the Ullahaw, the Clyda, the Brina, and several other rivers, with from 40 to 50 feet of fall, upon an average, on every mile of their length, offer a boundless field for their operations.

"The area of a circle 20 miles in diameter is 314 square miles, and allowing 36 inches deep of rain water to fall on the whole surface in a year, which is under the average for the last three years at Newcastle, there fall 1,186,920,000 tons; divide this into twenty parts, and allow 15 of these parts to go off in evaporation; 3 parts to be lost by a re-dundancy in floods; and 1 part to go to waste about the dams and rivers made to conduct it to machinery, there still remains l-20th which might be used. This is 59,346,000 tons of water, which could be made to act upon a number of falls, amounting, in the aggregate, to 100 feet perpendicular, at least.

"Again, allow the effect produced only equal to one-third of the power employed, and we have nearly twenty millions of tons for the effective quantity, and this in opera-tion on 100 feet fall, is equal to 11,428 steam engines, of 25 horse power each. Mr. Webster, in his lectures at the Dublin Institution in 1819, said that there was then 12,000 steam engines in Great Britain; therefore, we have, in our circle of twenty miles diameter, nearly as much water power available for mechanical purposes, as all the steam engines in Great Britain at that period were capable of producing.

"Hitherto the want of passable roads was an insuperable bar to the improvement of this neglected district. The new roads lately made at the expense of Government, of which there are thirty-five miles within this circle, are the first steps towards a very desirable change which, indeed they have already produced, both on the comfort and morals of the population, as well as creating habits of industry not existing before, to an extent truly surprising." 

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