County Clare Agriculture

The arable parts of the county produce abundant crops of potatoes, oats, wheat, barley, flax, &c. A large portion of the tillage is executed with the spade, especially on the sides of the mountains and on rocky ground, partly owing to the unevenness of the surface and partly to the poverty of the cultivators. The system of cropping too often adopted is the impoverishing mode of first burning or manuring for potatoes, set two or three years successively; then taking one crop of wheat, and lastly repeated crops of oats, until the soil is completely exhausted: but it is gradually giving place to a better system. Fallowing is practised to some little extent; and many farms are cultivated on an improved system, one important part of which is an alternation of green crops. An improved system of spade husbandry (trenching or Scotch drilling) has been lately introduced, and if generally adopted would be productive of great advantages.

Vast quantities of potatoes, usually boiled and sometimes mixed with bran, are used to feed cows and other cattle in winter. Beans were formerly sown to a great extent in the rich lands near the rivers Shannon and Fergus, but this practice has greatly declined. Red clover and rye-grass are the only artificial grasses generally sown. The corcasses yield six tons of hay per Irish acre, and even eight tons are sometimes obtained. Except near the town of Ennis, there is but a very small number of regular dairies, a few farmers and cottagers supplying the neighbouring villages with milk and butter. A considerable quantity of butter is sent to Limerick from Ennis, being chiefly the produce of the pastures near Clare and Barntick; and it is also now made by the small farmers in most parts, and sent to Limerick for exportation to London.

The pastures of Clare are of sufficient variety for rearing and fattening stock of every kind. A totally opposite character is presented by the limestone crags of Burren, and the eastern part of the baronies of Corcomroe and Inchiquin, which are, with few exceptions, devoted to the pasturage of young cattle and sheep, though in some places so rugged that four acres would not support one of the latter. Intermixed with these rocks, however, are found lands of a good fattening quality, producing mutton of the finest flavour, arising from the sweetness of the herbage, though to a stranger it might appear that a sheep could scarcely exist upon them; the parishes of Kilmoon and Killeiny contain some of the best fattening land in the county. Large tracts of these mountains are let by the bulk and not by the acre. The other baronies likewise present every variety, from the rich corcass to mountains producing scarcely any thing but heath and carex of various sorts, barely sufficient for keeping young cattle alive.

The enclosed pastures are often of very inferior quality, from the ground having been exhausted with corn crops, and never laid down with grass seeds, but allowed to recover its native herbage; a gradual improvement, however, is taking place, but the great defect consists in not properly clearing the ground. In the eastern and western extremities of the county the pasture land usually consists of reclaimed mountain or bog, having a coarse sour herbage, intermixed with carex, and capable of sustaining only a small number of young cattle. The herbage between Poulanishery and Carrigaholt is remarkable for producing good milk and butter; and that of the sandhills opposite Liscanor bay, and along the shore from Miltown to Dunbeg, is also of a peculiar kind: these elevations consist entirely of sands blown in by the westerly winds, and accumulated into immense hills by the growth of various plants, of which the first, and now one of the most common, was perhaps sea reed or mat weed. Besides the home manures, some farmers apply (though not to a sufficient extent) limestone gravel, which is found in different parts; limestone, now used very extensively; marl, of which the bed of the Shannon produces inexhaustible quantities, and by the use of which astonishing improvements have been effected in the neighbourhood of Killaloe; other species of marl of less fertilising powers, dug at Kilnoe, and between Feacle and Lough Graney, in the barony of Tulla; near the coast, sea-sand and seaweed, with which the potatoe ground is plentifully manured, and which is frequently brought up the Fergus by boats to Ennis, and thence into the country, a distance of four miles.

Ashes, procured by burning the surface of the land, until lately formed a very large portion of the manure used here, but the use of them is now much condemned, especially for light soils. Great improvements have been made upon the old rude implements of agriculture; the Scotch plough is generally used. In the rocky regions the only fences are, of necessity, stone walls, generally built without mortar: walls ten feet thick, made by clearing the land of stones, are not uncommon in these districts. The cattle are nearly all long-horned, generally well-shaped about the head, and tolerably fine in the limb, good milkers and thrifty. A few of the old native breed are still found, chiefly in mountainous situations: they are usually black or of a rusty brown, have black turned horns and large bodies, and are also good milkers and very hardy. The improved Leicester breed has been introduced to a great extent and of late years the short-horned Durham and Ayrshire cattle have been in request and are becoming general. Oxen are not often used in the labours of husbandry.

The short and fine staple of the wool of the native sheep has been much deteriorated by the introduction of the Leicester breed, but the encouragement of the South Down may in a great measure restore it. The breed of swine has been highly improved, the small short-eared pig being now universal. The breed of horses has also undergone great improvement; the horse fair of Spancel Hill is attended by dealers from all parts of Ireland. The chief markets for fat cattle are Cork and Limerick; great numbers of heifers are sent to the fair of Ballinasloe. Formerly there were extensive orchards in this county, especially near Six-mile-Bridge, and a few still remain. Very fine cider is made from apples of various kinds, mixed in the press, and it is in such repute that it is generally bought for the consumption of private families, principally resident.

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