The farms were formerly very large. It was not uncommon for one person to hold a thousand or fifteen hundred acres; but their size is now much reduced, averaging not more than from 12 to 17 acres; few are so large as 200 acres. Considerable tracts of mountain and bog are reclaimed every year by young men after marriage, who locate themselves in cabins generally near the bog for the advantage of fuel. Many of the little elevated patches in the bog of Allen, here called islands, have been thus brought into cultivation. The chief crops are wheat and potatoes, except near the bogs and mountains, where oats are principally grown. Barley and rape are also extensively raised; the latter is found to flourish on the most boggy soil, if properly drained. Turnips, mangel wurzel, vetches, and clover are everywhere grown by the gentry and large farmers; but the generality of the small farmers do not venture on the green crop system, except in the barony of Warrenstown, where a regular rotation crop is general. Red and white clover are found on most farms; the former, with rye grass, answers bog land extremely well, and throughout every part of the country it affords a remarkably early herbage, ripens a month earlier than the natural grasses, and is made into hay with much less trouble.

Flax is grown for domestic use in small quantities in patches or in the corner of a field. On the banks of the rivers are extensive marshy meadows, called callows, which are mostly inundated in winter, but afford a valuable pasture in summer. In the district between Birr and Roscrea they are very extensive, and yield great quantities of hay of very superior quality; the hay from the. callows on the Shannon is not so good. Dairies are not so frequent here as in some of the neighbouring counties; nor is the same attention paid to the breeding of milch cows, although near Parsonstown and on the borders of Meath the dairy cows are very good. Butter is the chief produce; cheese is seldom made, and of inferior quality.

Much has been done to improve the breed of horned cattle: that mostly preferred by the farmer is the old native stock crossed by the Durham. A very serviceable breed has been introduced by a cross between the Meath and Devon: the cattle are exceedingly pretty, and thrive well on favoured soils. In the barony of Ballybritt is a very heavy and powerful breed of bullocks, being a cross between the Limerick and Durham, excellent for field work, of large size, and rapidly and economically fattened: they are principally sent to the Dublin market. The breed of sheep has also been much improved. A cross between the new Leicester and the native sheep of the valley gives excellent wool, and draws higher prices than any other. On the hills the sheep appear to have been crossed till it would be difficult to give the breed a name: the best appear to combine the old Ayrshire with the Kerry. The horses are well bred, light, and active, and when properly trained, excellent for the saddle; they are bred in great numbers: it is no unusual thing to see herds of young horses, mostly bays, in the mountains or bogs of Eglish and Ballyboy. There is a greater number of jennets here than in any other part of Ireland. Pigs are found everywhere, but very little attention has been paid to their improvement. Asses are mostly kept by the poor people, and mules are common with the small farmers. Goats are by no means numerous.

The county is generally well fenced, mostly with white thorn planted on the breast of the ditch, but from the time of planting, the hedges appear to be neglected, except towards the south-western parts, where the country much resembles some of the midland districts of England. Draining and irrigation appear to be unknown; yet the country is highly favourable for both, for although chiefly a plain, and interspersed with large tracts of bog, it is so much elevated as to afford opportunities everywhere for carrying off the redundant water into some river. The general manure is limestone gravel, of which the best kind is found in hillocks, or at the foot of hills, and has a strong smell when turned up. Burning this gravel in heaps, with the parings of the moors, furnishes a manure producing extraordinary crops. Bog stuff by itself, or worked up into a compost with dung, is much used. In high grounds, with a deep limestone bottom, this latter is found to be the best manure.

The old plough is still in use. Oxen are employed in tillage, for the harnessing of which a singular kind of yoke is in use in the neighbourhood of Leap; it consists of a flat light piece of wood which lies on the forehead, and is strapped to the horns, so that the force of the draught is brought to the neck, in which the animal's strength is supposed chiefly to exist; the oxen rather pushing than pulling. Another mode has also been introduced when four oxen are employed; they are coupled together and a long beam is laid across their necks, embracing the throat by an iron bow which pierces the beam, and is keyed at the top; from the centre of the beam the long chain is suspended: this kind of yoke is considered to be very easy to the cattle. The Scotch plough and the angular harrow are everywhere used, except in the mountain districts and by the poorer farmers: the slide car, and that with solid wheels, are both exploded, and a light car with iron-bound spoke wheels has taken their place; it is formed of framework, consisting of the shafts and a few transverse bars for the body, on which rests a large wicker-work basket, here called a kish; by removing the basket the frame serves to carry bulky articles, such as sacks of grain or hay; this car is very light, not weighing more, when well made, than 15 cwt. The Scotch cart is seldom seen but with the gentry.

King's County | Towns | Geology | Agriculture | Trees | Quarries | Manufacturing | Rivers | Antiquities | Society | Mineral Waters

Search Topographical Dictionary of Ireland »