FERMANAGH AGRICULTURE

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

The soil in some parts is a rich loam upon a substratum of limestone, or calcareous gravel; in others, a light friable soil on slaty gravel; and again in others, a heavy soil mixed with stones, beneath which is blue and yellow clay on a substratum of basalt, here called whinstone; but throughout almost every part, the soil is wet and cold, obstinately retaining the surface water unless counteracted by constant draining. The size of farms varies from 3 acres to 500; those of large size are mostly near the mountains, and occupied in grazing young cattle. Considerable tracts of land are let in bulk, and the holders of them are generally middlemen, who sublet in small portions: proprietors of this description are called Terney begs, or "Little Lords."

The manure, which is seldom used for any crop except potatoes, is generally a compost of stable dung, lime, and bog mould; the scourings of ditches are sometimes used as a substitute for lime. Marl is in high repute; it is of a dusky white colour, mostly found at the bottom of bogs; near Florence-Court and in some other places it shews itself in large ridges resting upon gravel, whence issue numerous springs impregnated with vitriolic acid: in the vicinity of these springs the marl is found in various curious shapes, cylindrical, spherical, oblong, and curved, highly indurated, and of a dirty red colour, but when exposed to the action of a winter's atmosphere, and used either in top-dressing or as a compost, it retains its efficacy for two or three successive seasons.

The staple crops are oats and potatoes, with some wheat; flax, barley, turnips, clover, and vetches are occasionally planted; the culture of barley is every year extending, but that of all the others is chiefly confined to the gentry and wealthy farmers. In the mountain districts, much of the land is cultivated with the spade or the old heavy wooden plough; in other parts, the use of the improved iron plough and light angular harrow is universal, as well as that of all other new and improved implements.

The old car with solid wooden wheels has given way to the light cart with spoke-wheels, and the slide-car is rarely used, except in the most mountainous districts to bring turf down the precipitous roads. These mountain farms are chiefly appropriated to the rearing of young cattle, great numbers of which are annually purchased in Leitrim, Sligo, and Donegal, at a year old, and kept by the mountain farmer for one or two years, when they are sold to the graziers of the adjoining counties; great numbers of milch cows are kept, and large quantities of butter made, which is mostly salted in firkins, and bought up in the neighbouring markets, chiefly for the merchants of Belfast and Newry.

Perhaps less attention is paid to the breed of cattle in this than in any other county in Ireland; almost every sort of stock known in the kingdom is to be found here in a day's journey, but so crossed as to defy the possibility of distinguishing the original breeds; that best adapted to the soil and climate is the long-horned Roscommon.

Sheep are numerous in some districts; they are generally a small mountain breed, and mostly kept for the purpose of furnishing wool for domestic clothing, but many of the gentry have very excellent stocks, being for the most part a cross between the Leicester and Sligo breed.

Pigs, though found in all parts, are by no means so numerous as in the adjoining county of Monaghan; indeed in many instances the food which should be given to the pig is carefully saved for the cow. Goats are so numerous as to be highly detrimental to the hedges, which are everywhere stunted by the browsing of this animal.

The horses are bad, being neither of the hack nor waggon kind; larger than the poney and smaller than the galloway: but great numbers of a very superior description are brought into the county by dealers for the use of the gentry.

The fences for the most part are dry stone walls, or sods, except in the lower and level districts, where white thorn and other quicksets have been planted; these, wherever properly protected, thrive remarkably well. Draining is sometimes practised, mostly by open trenches; irrigation rarely or never. Every part of the county appears to produce forest timber spontaneously, particularly ash and beech; to such an extent does the former grow, as to be called the weed of the country; and towards the northern part and in some other districts, excellent ash and beech are to be seen growing to a large size as hedgerow timber.

At Crum and Castle Caldwell there are excellent and extensive woods of oak, beech, and ash, and much full-grown ornamental timber and young plantations around Florence-Court and Castle Coole; indeed, plantations are more or less connected with the residence of almost every gentleman, and they are yearly increasing.

The fuel universally used is turf, cut from the numerous bogs scattered over every part of the county, from the lowest levels to the sides, and even to the summits of the mountains. Coal is sometimes brought to Enniskillen, but the expense of conveyance limits its use to the more wealthy part of the community.

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