LEITRIM AGRICULTURE

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

This is by no means an agricultural county, although considerable tracts of land have been brought into cultivation within these few years. The principal crops are oats, potatoes, and flax; the culture of wheat has become more general of late, and bere, barley, and clover, are occasionally sown. The general rotation is potatoes, flax, and afterwards successive crops of oats, until the land is exhausted, when it is generally much encumbered with weeds, and in this state is left to recruit itself by natural means alone; fallowing is unknown, and grass or clover seeds are rarely sown; hence the land is almost useless until broken up again for potatoes after a few years.

When the soil is considered to be too good for flax, wheat sometimes succeeds potatoes, but the land is scarcely ever manured for any but the potatoe crop. The old heavy wooden plough is generally used in the low country, while in the mountain districts the land is chiefly cultivated by the loy, a narrow spade, with a blade about 14 inches long by 3 inches broad, and much bent, with a strong handle 5 or 6 feet long; but neither with the plough nor the loy is fresh soil turned up, the same thin surface being merely broken year after year; and even where the wealthier farmers have introduced the Scotch plough, the ploughman, attached to the old method, will not cut his furrow deep enough.

The light angle harrow is found only with the gentry and wealthier farmers, who are doing much to improve the system of agriculture. Potatoes are in some instances dibbled in with a pointed stake called "a steeveen," in others spread on the sward or on manure, and the soil dug out of the trenches is thrown over them with a broad awkward shovel. The grass lands are of every quality, from the richest herbage to mountain heath and rushes. It is observed, however, that even on the coarsest and most marshy soils, the old native cow thrives well, and both milk and butter are of excellent flavour.

Though there are no regular or extensive dairies, almost every family, however poor, has one or more cows, and hence great quantities of butter are made, which is principally carried to market in firkins and bought up to be shipped for England. Leitrim, generally, is not a feeding county like Roscommon, yet there are some excellent farms on which great numbers of cattle are annually fed, principally for the Dublin or English markets. In most of the valleys are found limestone gravel and marl, which are extensively used for manure; and in the districts of Ballynagleragh and Glenfarn, which are deficient in these materials, the inhabitants bring lime from a distance of three or four miles: sea weed, shells, and sand are not only used in all parts contiguous to the shores, but are carried several miles into the interior.

The fences are chiefly a trench from four to six feet wide, having on one side a bank of earth thrown out of the trench, which becomes durable by exposure to the air; a layer of sods is sometimes added, and quicksets are planted on the breast of the bank; but this sort of hedge or fence is found only in the southern parts of the county, where, on some of the larger farms, double-faced banks, with trenches on each side, and planted with thorn, crab, and forest trees, are sometimes to be seen. Farms of every size, from 4 acres to 3000, are to be met with, the larger principally in the mountainous districts and mostly under pasture, with some enclosures near the dwelling-houses.

Vast numbers of young and store cattle are reared, and in some districts there are large flocks of sheep, but they are not so general as they might be: horned cattle are preferred, because they require less attention. In the southern parts of the county, and generally in the fertile districts, great improvements have been made in the breed of this latter stock, by the introduction of English and Scotch cows of the most esteemed sorts. The Durham is a general favourite, but is too delicate for the climate except in sheltered situations: the North Devon and Hereford do not attain to so great a size as at home.

The cross which appears best suited to the richer parts of the county is that between the old Leicester and Durham; and in the upland districts, the blood of the Leicester mixes well with that of the native long-horned stock, producing a large and useful animal, well adapted to the soil and climate, which thrives well, fattens rapidly, and makes excellent beef. The breed of sheep has also been greatly improved: the New Leicester answers well on the limestone soils, and in both size and fleece is not inferior to any in England. But the breed most encouraged is a cross between the Leicester and the native; the fleece is good and the flavour of the mutton highly esteemed.

Pigs, though numerous, are neither so general nor so good as in some of the northern and southern counties. Goats are found most frequently at the foot of the mountains, and are often an appendage to the cabin on the plain, but they are not by any means so general as in the mountainous counties of Munster. The horse, which appears to combine the characteristics of all the breeds to be met with in Roscommon, Longford, and Sligo, is not so good as that of any of those counties, being mostly small and light: the gentlemen and large farmers, however, have horses admirably adapted for the saddle.

A light and useful one-horse cart has every where superseded the old solid wheel and slide car. Leitrim was formerly celebrated for its numerous and extensive forests. So lately as 1605, five are distinctly mentioned as being of very considerable extent, under the names of the forests of Drummat, Clone, Drumdaragh, Cortmore, and Screeney; all of these have long since disappeared, and this county, like the rest of Connaught, presents a bleak and denuded aspect; yet vestiges of woods are seen around Lurganboy and Woodville, which have some appearance of the remains of ancient forests; and there are old plantations, containing full-grown timber, in various parts, with others of modern growth around several of the mansions of the gentry; there are also several nurseries. An orchard and a good kitchen garden is a usual appendage to the farm-house.

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