Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Natural History of Ireland (Author: Gerard Boate)

chapter 11

Of the Several Manners of manuring and enriching the Ground practised in Ireland

In some part of Ireland the Ground never needs dunging

TO amend the lean and faulty grounds, to enrich both them and the good ones, and to keep both the one and the other in heart, in preserving them from being exhausted, the dunging of the ground is usual in Ireland as in other countries. It is true, that as approved authors assure us, in the island of Zealand, part of the kingdom of Denmark, the natural richness of the ground is such, and so lasting, as it needeth not the succour of any artificial helps, but is very fruitful, and aye preserveth its fertility, without putting the husbandman to the labour and costs of dunging. That likewise there is some


part in the province of Munster in Ireland, where very credible persons have assured me, of their own knowledge, that the land never needeth any dunging; so as the inhabitants thereof never trouble themselves to keep the dung of their beasts, but from time to time fling it into a river which runneth by them. But this happiness and richness of soil as it is very rare over all the world, so in Ireland too, being confined to very narrow bounds, all the rest of the kingdom is necessitated, for the ends aforesaid, to help and improve their lands by dunging, the which they do several manner of ways.

Of Sheeps Dung

THE commonest sort of manuring the lands in Ireland, is that which is done with the dung of beasts, especially of cows and oxen, and also of horses mixed with a great quantity of straw, and having lain a long while to rot and incorporate well together, whereof, as of a matter every where known and usual, it is needless to speak further. Only thus much seemeth good to us not to pass over in silence, that if sheep here, as in other countries, were housed and kept up in stables for any longtime together, their excrements would make better dung, than that of any other four-footed creatures. For the land on which sheep have fed for two or three years together, or longer, is so greatly enriched thereby, that when it cometh to be plowed, it bringeth a much fairer and plentifuller crop, than if from the beginning it had been made arable, and dunged after the ordinary manner. Wherefore also great sheep-masters may set their land, where the sheep have been feeding some years together, as dear again by the acre, than what at the first they could have got for it of any body.

Wherefore also it is an usual thing in Ireland, as well as in England, to drive the sheep upon the fallow, and to keep them there until all the herbs which may minister any food unto the sheep be by them consumed, which doth the ground a great deal of good, and giveth it heart to bring afterwards the better increase. And the same also helpeth greatly for to make good grass grow upon the arable, when the same is turned into pasture and meadow, a thing ordinarily used in sundry parts of Ireland, and many times necessary for to keep the lands in heart, for ground being plowed, and the sheep driven thither as soon as any herbs grow upon it, they do not only consume the thistles, and other useless herbs, but cause good grass to grow up in lieu thereof, and that speedily. For in all places where their dung lighteth, of the best and sweetest sorts of grass do grow, and that within the first year, which otherwise would not have come in much longer time, and that nothing near so good generally.

An useful Observation about Cows Dung

THERE is a notable difference betwixt sheeps dung and that of other cattle, in the goodness and richness it self, so in the particular last mentioned by them. For that of oxen and cows is no ways fit for dunging until it is grown old, and


hath lain a soaking with straw a great while; daily experience shewing in Ireland, as in England and other countries, that in those places of the pastures where the fresh cow dung falleth and remaineth, the grass the next year doth grow ranker and higher than in the rest of the same fields, but so soure and unpleasing, that the beasts will not offer to touch it, so as ordinarily you shall see these tufts of grass standing whole and undiminished in the midst of pastures, that every where else are eaten bare and to the very ground. The which as in part it may be imputed to the quantity of the dung, the which being greater than the earth can well digest, and conveniently unite with it self, cannot be turned into so good and sweet nourishment, so doth it also without doubt come in part through the very nature of the dung, the which of it self, and without a long preparation and alteration, is not so fit to nourish the ground, as that of sheep.

Of Pigeons Dung

PIGEONS dung also is very convenient for the improvement of the ground; and I know some in Ireland, who having tried that, have found a wonderful deal of good in it, incomparably more than in that of any four-footed beasts, and of sheep themselves. But the pigeon houses no where in Ireland being so big as to afford any considerable quantity, and never having heard of any body there who could dung more than an acre or two with all the pigeons dung which had been gathering the space of a whole twelvemonth, it cannot well be reckoned among the common sorts.

Of Ashes and Mud

BESIDES the dung of beasts there are usual in Ireland, or were before this rebellion, five or six other sorts for to manure and improve the ground, whereof some are as good as the dung consisting of the excrements of beasts, and others do far surpass it. One of these sorts is ashes, and mud another. As for the first, I have understood of Englishmen, who had lived many years in Ireland, and all that while had exercised husbandry, that they had used to gather all their ashes of their hearths, bake-houses, and brew-houses, being wood ashes, and to lay them of a heap somewhere in the open air, from whence at convenient times they would carry them upon their grounds, and there spread them in the same manner as other dung, but nothing near in so great a quantity; wherein they affirmed to have found as much and more good than in any dung of beasts.

And I know several other English, who living in Ireland, did use to take the scouring of their ditches, together with other mud digged out of the bogs, and having let it lye a good while a rotting in great heaps, did afterwards carry it upon their lands In lieu of dung the which they found very good and useful for that purpose.


These two sorts were never yet brought into common use, but only practised by some few persons, especially that of the ashes, although in other countries they have been known long since; so as Pliny, who lived about fifteen hundred years ago, writeth in the ninth chapter of the seventeenth book of his natural history, that in his time in that part of Italy which is situated between the Alpes and the river Po (comprehending those countries which now are known by the names of Piedmont and Lombardy) ashes were more used and commended for the manuring of the grounds, than the dung of beasts.

As concerning the burning of the heath, and other dry herbs standing upon the ground, for to manure the land with the ashes thereof, that not properly belonging to this place, shall be spoke of more at large in some of the ensuing chapters.

Of Lime

THE English living in Queen's county in Leinster, having seen that in sundry parts of England and Wales, especially in Pembrookshire, lime was used by the inhabitants for the manuring and enriching of their grounds, begun some years since to practise the same, and found themselves so well thereby, that in a short time the use thereof grew very common amongst them, so as many of them ever after used no other kind of dung.

The manner of it was thus. Having first plowed their fields, they carried the lime on them, and laid it in many small heaps, leaving a convenient distance between, in the same manner as useth to be done with the dung of beasts, and having let them lye for some months, they plowed the land again to convey the lime into the ground.

This made it so rich, that in a great while after nothing else needed to be done to it, but to let the land at a certain revolution of time lye fallow, no other manuring at all being requisite for some years after; and all that while the land was very fruitful, more than it could have been made with any ordinary dung, and very free of all sorts of bad herbs and weeds (especially for the first years) bringing corn with much thinner husks than that growing upon other lands.

They found that the lime carried upon the land hot out of the kiln, did more good in all the forementioned particulars, than when they let it grow cold first. And this they could do very easily, because lime stone is very plentiful in that county, especially in the town of Montrath, where there is a whole hill of that stone, of that bigness, that if all the adjacent country did continually fetch it from thence for the forenamed use, it would for ever hold out sufficiently.

The land thus manured and improved by lime, shewed its fruitfulness not only in the following years, but even in the first, except the lime had been laid on in undue proportion, and in greater quantity than was requisite; for in that case the lime burnt the corn, and the first year's crop was thereby spoiled.

In some places where the land was not cold and moist enough to be able to endure mere lime, they mixed the lime with earth digged out of pits, and let


hat stuff lye a mellowing in great heaps for some months together, and afterwards carried it on the land, and manured that therewith.

A remarkable History concerning the Excellency of Lime for the enriching of the ground

HOW incredibly the land was enriched by this kind of manuring, may be gathered by the ensuing particular, the whole lordship of Montrath was thirty years ago set by one Mr. Downings (whose it was, and who afterwards sold it to sir Charles Coot) for fifty pounds sterling by the year, and nevertheless after a while the farmers surrendred it unto him, complaining that they could not live by it but were quite impoverished, whereas they who farmed it next after them (being people newly come out of England) and gave an hundred and fifty pounds sterling for it, did not only live very freely upon it, yea grew rich and wealthy, but withal did so far forth improve the land, partly indeed with building, planting, hedging, and the like, but chiefly by this kind of manuring, that at the time when this last horrible rebellion broke forth, the same lordship, if it had been to let out then, might have been let for five hundred pounds sterling a year as it hath been assured me by some, who themselves had been farmers of that land.

Another History, shewing the Efficacy of Lime in this particular

BEFORE we give over this discourse of lime, we shall add to what hath been said already, that in some other parts of Ireland, where this manuring with lime was not used nor known, the vertue of lime in this particular hath been found out by mere chance. For some persons known to me, who lived but a few miles from Dublin, having understood that the crows wherewith they were much plagued, and who did use to make very great spoil of their grains would not touch the corn wherewith the lime was mixed, did cause unslaked lime to be mingled with water, making it as thin as if it had been for the whitening of walls, and very well besprinkled the corn therewith, before it was carried to the fields to be sown, and that after this manner, the corn lying on a heap, one turned it with both hands, whilst another sprinkled on the foresaid stuff, doing so until the whole heap was thoroughly besprinkled, at other times they mingled dry lime with the corn, and afterwards besprinkled the whole heap with fair water through and through, for the same purpose, and hereby they did not only obtain the aforesaid end, of preserving the corn from the crows, but had thereby a fairer and better crop, than ever before their land had produced.

Of Sea Sand.

LIME is much used in the province of Munster, as in other parts of Ireland, for to manure the ground withal, where the sea sand likewise is greatly used


to the same end, not only in places lying on the sea side, but even ten, twelve, and fifteen miles into the land, whither it was carried in some places by boats, and in others upon carts, the charges being sufficiently recompensed by the profit coming from it. For they used it for the most part only upon very poor land, consisting of cold clay, and that above half a foot deep which land having been three or four times plowed and harrowed (in the same manner as is usual to be done with fallow) the sand is strowed all over very thinly, a little before the sowing time; the which being done, that land bringeth very good corn of all sorts, not only rye and oats, but even barley and wheat, three years one after another; and having lain fallow the fourth year, for many years after it produceth very clean and sweet grass; whereas formerly, and before it was thus manured, it produced nothing but moss, heath, and short low furze: which herbs are fired upon the ground, and the ground stubbed, before it be plowed the first time.

It is not any peculiar sort of sea sand, nor out of any particular places, which is used for this purpose, but that which every where lyeth on the strands. And this manner of manuring the land with sea sand is very common in the two most westerly shires of England, Cornwal and Devonshire, from whence those, who first practised it in Ireland, seem to have learned it.

Of Brine or Pickle.

THE goodness of the sea sand consisteth chiefly in its saltness, for which reason pickle it self is very good for this purpose: it being very well known to several English dwelling about the Bann and Colrain, that were farmers of the salmon fishing there, who used every year carefully to keep the foul pickle, coming off the salmon at their repacking, and having poured it among the ordinary dung of cattle and straw they did let them lye a good while a mellowing together. Hereby it was greatly strengthened and enriched, so that the land being dunged with it, did bear much better and richer crops than that which was manured only with common dung without the mixture of it.