Cavan Agriculture

Agriculture is very little improved: the chief crops are oats and potatoes; in some districts a considerable quantity of flax is cultivated, and wheat, within the last two or three years, has become a more common crop. Green crops are seldom or ever grown, except by some of the nobility and gentry. Lord Farnham has in cultivation a large and excellent farm, and around Virginia are evidences of a superior system of husbandry. The chief proprietors afford by example and encouragement every inducement to agricultural improvement, but with little success, except in the introduction of the iron plough, which has been generally substituted for spade labour, by which the land was formerly almost exclusively cultivated. Into the mountain districts, however, neither the plough nor wheel car has yet found its way; the spade, sickle, and flail are there the chief agricultural implements, cattle and pigs the common farm stock, and oats and potatoes the prevailing crops.

The sides of the mountains are generally cultivated for oats to a considerable height, and their summits are grazed by herds of small young cattle. This practice more especially prevails in the barony of Tullaghagh, in the mountain district between the counties of Fermanagh and Leitrim, generally known as "the kingdom of Glan," but more properly called Glangavlin, or the country of the Mac Gaurans. To this isolated district there is no public road, and only one difficult pass; in some places a trackway is seen by which the cattle are driven out to the fairs of the adjacent country. It is about 16 miles in length by 7 in breadth, and is densely inhabited by a primitive race of Mac Gaurans and Dolans, who intermarry and observe some peculiar customs; they elect their own king and queen from the ancient race of the Mac Gaurans, to whom they pay implicit obedience.

Tilling the land and attending the cattle constitute their sole occupation; potatoes and milk, with, sometimes, oaten bread, their chief food; and the want of a road by which the produce of the district might be taken to the neighbouring markets operates as a discouragement to industry and an incentive to the illicit application of their surplus corn. Wheat might be advantageously cultivated in most of the southern parts of the county, by draining and properly ploughing the land; a great defect consists in not ploughing sufficiently deep, from which cause the grain, receives but little nourishment, and the land soon becomes exhausted, and is allowed to recover its productiveness by natural means. Hay seeds are scarcely ever sown. The farms are mostly small; and in many parts the farmer has looms in his house for weaving linen, on which he mainly depends for support, and hence neglects his land.

Weaving, however, has of late somewhat declined, but tillage has not improved in proportion. Barley is sometimes sown, and the crop is generally good. In consequence of the system here practised of shallow ploughing and the unchecked growth of weeds, flax does not flourish in this so well as in some of the other northern counties, but it is still an amply remunerative crop. The fences in most parts are bad, consisting chiefly of a slight ridge of earth loosely thrown up. Draining and irrigation are wholly unpractised, although the country offers great facility for both; the gentle elevations are generally dry, and afford, beneath the surface, stones for draining; and the low grounds abound with springs, whose waters might be applied to the beneficial purposes of irrigation. Large allotments in the occupation of one individual are found only in the mountainous districts, and are applied to the grazing of young cattle during the summer months.

In the demesnes of the gentry some sheep are fattened; but there are no good sheepwalks of any extent, except in the neighbourhood of Cavan, which district, indeed, is so superior to any other part of the county for fattening, that oxen are fed to as great size as in any part of Ireland. Dairy farms are by no means numerous, although the butter of Cavan is equal to that of any other part of the kingdom. The breed of cattle varies in almost every barony: that best adapted to the soil is a cross between the Durham and the Kerry, but the long-horned attains the greatest size. In the mountain districts the Kerry cow is the favourite; and in the lower or central parts, around Cavan, are some very fine Durham cattle and good crosses with the Dutch. The sheep are mostly a cross between the New Leicester and the old sheep of the country; the fleece, though mostly light, is good, and the mutton of excellent flavour. The horses are a light, hardy, active breed, well adapted to the country. The breed of pigs has been much improved, and although they do not attain a large size, they are profitable and readily fatten.

Lime is the general manure, although in some parts the farmer has to draw it many miles; and calcareous sand and gravel, procured from the escars in the baronies of Tullaghonoho and Loughtee, are conveyed for that use to every part of the county where the roads permit, and sometimes even into the hilly districts, by means of two boxes, called "bardocs," slung across the back of a horse, which is the only means of conveyance the inhabitants of those parts possess. The woods were formerly very considerable, and the timber of uncommon size, as is evinced by the immense trees found in the bogs; but demesne grounds only are now distinguished by this valuable ornament.

There are, however, numerous and extensive plantations in several parts, which in a few years will greatly enrich the scenery, particularly around the lakes of Ramor and Shellin, also near Stradone, Ballyhaise, Ballymacue, Fort Frederic, Farnham, Killesandra, and other places. The county contains bogs of sufficient extent for supplying its own fuel, and of a depth every where varying, but generally extremely great: they commonly lie favourably for draining, and the peat yields the strong red ashes which form an excellent manure. There is likewise a small proportion of moor, having a boggy surface, and resting on partial argillaceous strata: in these a marl, highly calcareous and easily raised, most commonly abounds. The fuel in universal use is peat.

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