MAYO AGRICULTURE

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

Wheat is grown in the southern and champaign parts; potatoes, oats, barley, and flax in the more elevated districts. But the greater portion of the latter division is under pasture, as the grass is found to be suitable for rearing young cattle, though it is not rich enough to fatten them. The farms in the grazing districts are in size from 100 to 500 acres. The general term of a lease is one life, or 21 years; a non-alienation clause is common; and latterly another has been occasionally introduced, by which a stipulated allowance is to be made to the tenant out of the reserved rent, for every acre of land reclaimed.

The manures are limestone gravel, especially for reclaiming bog and mountain; limestone, which is very general, and used wherever a supply of fuel for burning it can be had; composts of bog mould and farm manure; and, near the sea-coast, shell-sand and weed. Paring and burning is very prevalent, notwithstanding the penalties inflicted on the practice by act of parliament; the land, when so treated, produces tolerable crops for a few years, but is afterwards barren for a considerable length of time. When burning has been repeated three or four times, it has been found necessary to renovate the soil by a coat of bog mixed with earth or farm rubbish. In reclaiming bog, which is done by limestone gravel to the thickness of an inch, or by white marl, it is observed that when the heath dies, as it does in about three years, daisies and white clover shew themselves, indicating that the land is fit for tillage.

The plough is an implement little used in the boggy and mountainous parts; the long narrow spade, which supplies its place, is called a "loy." In Erris a spade of still more unusual construction is found to answer best in light sandy soils: it consists of two iron blades, each about three inches broad, with a space of an inch and a half between them, fixed on a two-forked shaft like two loys. The old and clumsy agricultural implements are rapidly giving way to those of a more improved description; the slide car is nearly extinct even in the mountains. Yet still the cottiers' implements are mostly limited to the spade and sickle, and the manure is carried to the field and the produce to market in wicker panniers on horses' backs or on the shoulders of women. In general, the ploughing is too light and the sowing too late in the season, hence the harvest of every kind of crop requires the farmer's attention simultaneously. Wheat is cultivated to some extent, but potatoes and oats are the main crops; green crops are more frequent than formerly: flax is raised only on the headlands or corners of a field for domestic use.

The most favourite breed of horned cattle is a cross between the old Leicester and the native stock; but the native cow is still preferred in the upland districts. The sheep are not equal to those of the adjoining counties. In the mountains a useful hardy race of horses is found; in the lowland districts the horses are remarkably good for the saddle and of superior action. Pigs do not enter into the rural economy of the small farmer to the same extent as in other counties. Dairies are neither numerous nor extensive, the rearing of young cattle being the more general occupation. The fences are dry stone walls formed by collecting the numerous loose stones off the land, but in Clanmorris and Kilmaine they are good ditches faced with quicksets.

Draining and irrigation are little practised, though the soil and the command of water is favourable to both. So late as 1675, the county was well wooded, and had then three extensive forests, at Barnagee, Cappough, and Liscullen; but even the vestiges of these have been swept away, and the last extensive wood of the county, that of Glanmurra, on the shores of Killery bay, was felled in the winters of 1778 and 1779.

Natural oaks grow also on all the hills in the Barnagee mountains, and are kept down only by the browsing of the cattle. It has also been ascertained that bogs of an altitude too great to admit of profitable cultivation are capable of producing timber by planting and fencing. The most remarkable range of woods at present is round the base of Croagh Patrick mountain, following the windings of the Brackloon river.

The Marquess of Sligo has planted to a large extent and with great prospect of remuneration in the neighbourhood of Westport. In general the baronies of Tyrawley, Burrishoole, Gallen, and Costello, are nearly bare of timber; in Murrisk it abounds, chiefly on the Marquess of Sligo's property, as also in Clanmorris, which exhibits some woods of fine full-grown timber: but in Carragh the plantations are few.

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