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

chapter 12

Of the Marl in Ireland, and the manner of marling the land there.

MARL is a certain sort of fat and clayish stuff, being as the grease of the earth, it hath from ancient times been greatly used for manuring of land both in France and England, as may appear out of Pliny in the sixth, seventh, and eighth chapters of his seventeenth Book. The same


also is still very usual in sundry parts of England, being of an incomparable goodness the which caused the English, who, out of some of those places where Marl was used, were come to live in Ireland, to make diligent search for it, and that with good success at last; it having been found out by them within these few years, in several places; first in the King's-county, not far from the Shannon, where being of a grey colour, it is digged out of the bogs; and in the city of Wexford, where the use of it was grown very common before this rebellion, especially in the parts lying near the sea; where it stood them in very good stead, the land of it self being nothing fruitful. For although the ground for the most part is a good black earth, yet the same being but one foot deep, and having underneath a crust of stiff yellow clay of half a foot, is thereby greatly impaired in its own goodness. In this depth of a foot and a half next under the clay, lieth the Marl, the which reacheth so far downwards, that yet no where they are come to the bottom of it. It is of a blew colour, and very fat (which as in other ground, so in this, is chiefly perceived when it it is wet) but brittle and dusty when it is dry.

The Manner, Charges, and Profit of marling the Ground.

THE marl is laid upon the land in heaps, by some before it is plow'd, by others after, many letting it lye several months ere they plow it again, that the rain may equally divide and mix it, the sun, moon, and air mellow and incorporate it with the earth. One thousand cart-loads of this goeth to one English acre or ground; it being very chargeable, for even to those who dig it out of their own ground, so as they are at no other expences but the hire of the labourers, every acre cometh to stand in three pounds sterling. But these great expences are sufficiently recompensed by the great fruitfulness which it causeth, being such, as may seem incredible; for the marled land, even the very first year, fully quitteth all the cost bestow'd on it. There besides it is sufficient once to marl, whereas the ordinary dunging must be renewed oftentimes.

The Usage of the marled Land, practised by them of the County of Wexford.

The good usage of the marled land, to keep it in heart for ever after, doth consist, in the opinion and practice of some, in letting it lye fallow at convenient times, but the ordinary manner, commonly practised by the inhabitants of the county of Wexford, and counted the best by them, is, that having sowed it five or six years together, with the richest sorts of corn, to wit, wheat and barley (especially that sort which in some parts of England, and generally in Ireland, is peculiarly called bear, being a much richer grain than the ordinary barley) it being afterwards turned to pasture, whereunto it is very fit, forasmuch as it bringeth very sweet grass in great abundance: for the marl is also used on meadows at the first, with very good success, improving the same most wonderfully.


If the marled land be thus used, and by turns kept under corn, and grass, it keeps its fruitfulness forever; where to the contrary, if year after year it [is] bestowed till the heart be drawn out, it's quite spoiled, so as afterwards it is not possible to bring it again to any passable condition by any kind of dunging, or marling. This would ordinarily be done in the space of ten years; for so long together the marled land may be sowed, and bring every year a rich crop of the best corn.

Nevertheless this is not general, but taketh place only in the worser kind of ground, for where the land of it self is better and richer, there after marling, wheat and other corn may be sow'd, not only for ten years together, but longer, for very credible persons have assured me, that some parts of the county of Wexford having born very good corn for thirteen years together, and afterwards being turned to pasture, it was as good and fertile as other marled grounds that had been under corn but five or six years.

Of the Marl in Connaught.

THE province of Connaught (by what hath been discover'd) is much more plentiful in marl, than Leinster, as in other counties, so in those of Roscommon, Slego, and Galloway, almost in every part of it. It is there of three several colours, some being white as chalk, other grey, and some black, but none blew, as that in the county of Wexford. It lieth nothing deep under the upper-ground, or surface of the earth, commonly not above half a foot, but its own depth is so great that never any body yet digged to the bottom of it.

The land which they intend to marl in this province, is commonly plowed in the beginning of May, and lying five or six weeks (until it be sufficiently dried and mellowed by the sun and wind) they harrow it, and then having brought the marl upon it, five or six weeks after it is plowed again, and a third time about September. After which third plowing they sow it with wheat or barley, whereof they have a very rich crop the next year.

Property and Usage of the marled Lands in Connaught.

LAND marled in that manner as we have said, may be sowed ten or twelve years together; the first eight or nine with wheat, and bear, or barley, and the remaining three or four years with oats, afterwards the land is turned to pasture, and having served some years in that kind, it may be marled anew, and made as good for corn as at the first.

For the observation of those of the county of Wexford, that land may not be marled more than once, doth not take place in Connaught, where it is an ordinary thing, having some space of years to make it again. I know some gentlemen who have caused some parcels of land to be marled thrice in the space of twenty years, and have found very good profit by it. But whether this be caused by the difference of the ground and Marl (appearing also hereby, that in Connaught


they scarce lay the fourth part of the quantity of Marl on the ground of what they do in the county of Wexford) or by the carelesness or want or experience of those of that county, I am not yet fully inform'd. But thus much is known as well in Connaught as other parts, that those who sow the marled land until it can bear no more, and be quite out of heart, will find it exceeding difficult, if not altogether impossible ever to amend or improve the same again by any means whatsoever.