LIMERICK AGRICULTURE

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

Although a considerable proportion of the soil is calculated to produce abundant crops, having been regarded by Mr. Arthur Young as the richest that he had ever seen, yet not more than a fourth is under tillage, the remainder being wholly devoted to the fattening of black cattle and sheep; and it is here worthy of observation, that in some leases there is a special clause under heavy penalties to prevent more than one acre in 20, and in some cases more than one in 50, being broken up or in any way cultivated. Even where no such clause exists, if a farmer begins to bring his land into tillage, it is regarded as a certain indication of approaching poverty.

Many of the landholders round Dromin, Bruff, Bulgadine, Kilpeacon, Crecora, and Lough Gur are very wealthy, and have stocks of from 400 to 600 head of cattle. In the baronies of Clanwilliam and Small County, the quantity of pasture far exceeds the arable land. The barony of Kenry is the most remarkable for the abundant crops and fine quality of its grain. The wheat crops are everywhere very heavy; and the produce of potatoes is about sixty barrels, in some instances one hundred barrels, of twenty-one stone each per acre. The tillage, except on large farms which are mostly in the hands of gentlemen, is generally conducted in a slovenly manner, and even the wealthier landholders are not wholly exempt from the charge of negligence.

In some parts the land is much divided, and wretchedly exhausted by the impoverishing system of subletting. The crop of the greatest importance to the peasant is the potatoe, the cultivation of which is chiefly by the spade: the potatoe is generally followed by wheat, then oats or potatoes again, and thus in succession until the ground is wholly exhausted, when it is left to recruit its powers by the unassisted efforts of nature. This system of subdivision, though too common, is by no means universal. It exists to a great extent in the neighbourhood of Kildeemo, where scarcely half a dozen persons in the district keep a horse, and even more so around Tankards-town, near Kilmallock; the con-acre system is also on the increase in the neighbourhood of Galbally and other parts of the county. Still there are many good and extensive practical farmers, and many landlords who discountenance altogether the system of parcelling out and subletting; and the tillage farms, in many instances, are managed under the most approved systems: some few are drained and well fenced, but these are rare.

Irrigation is little if at all practised; indeed, the soil is so productive by nature, that most farmers deem any outlay for its improvement a superfluous expenditure; some even of the more intelligent assert that sowing grass seeds, in laying down land, completely destroys it for the next 7 years. Flax grows here to an extraordinary height; but notwithstanding the efforts of the Limerick chamber of Commerce and the Agricultural Society, the farmer is not yet convinced that it will prove a remunerating crop.

This and the contiguous county of Clare are famous for their orchards, which produce the much-esteemed Cackagay cider. The most celebrated districts for its manufacture are those round Pallaskenry, Adare, Croom, Rathkeale and Kilpeacon. The greatest variety of apple is to be seen around the farm-houses of the Palatines.

Dairy farms are very numerous and large, varying from 150 to 600 acres, the management of which appears to be well understood. The cattle are chiefly crosses between the Leicester, the Devon, the Durham, the Teeswater, the Kerry, and the old or native Irish; and the breed, called by the Cork and Kerry farmer "the Limerick heifer," appears to be admirably adapted to the soil. The horses are mostly light, being a cross between the Suffolk and Ayrshire; in the neighbourhood of Adare, Croom, and Kilmallock, a very useful and active kind of horse is to be met with.

The breed of sheep has been greatly improved by crosses with English stock, principally the Leicester, and in some parts of the county, considerable flocks are kept. That of pigs embraces every variety, but a mixture of the Berkshire and Irish appears to fatten with the least trouble and to be the most profitable. The agricultural implements are generally of the newest and most improved construction, particularly the plough and the harrow: the old Irish car is quite banished, except among the very poorest people and its place is supplied by a light cart, composed of shafts, and a frame resting on a pair of wheels, on which is placed an oblong basket of wicker work, capable of containing a large quantity of field or garden produce, and removeable at pleasure, when timber or other bulky articles are to be conveyed on it.

The fences are in some places stone walls; in others large ditches or banks of sods, with a deep trench on both sides. In some places, furze is planted on the tops of the banks; the thorn fence is very rare. The agricultural association for the county holds its meetings regularly in Limerick: it is energetically supported; many premiums have been distributed and much encouragement for improvement held out both by instruction and example, but little advantage has been derived as yet from its spirited efforts.

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