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

chapter 15

Of the Woods in Ireland.

Woods in Ireland are reckon'd among the barren Lands, and the Reason thereof

Amongst the barren parts of Ireland the woods must also be counted, according to the usual division of the lands of that kingdom, whereby reckoning for fruitful only the meadows, arable grounds, and pastures, they count all the rest for barren, comprehending them under these three general heads, bogs, barren mountains, and woods. Which division as it is in the mouth of all them that have any insight into the matters of that land, and do, or have lived there, so it is further confirmed by a number of writings and monuments, both of ancient times, and late ones, in the which it is very common and familiar, as for instance may appear by those several acts, which since this last rebellion of the Irish have been made by the parliament of England in the behalf of the adventurers who have laid out their mony for the reconquering of the revolted parts of that kingdom. For although the land which the woods do take up, is in it self very good in most places, and apt to bear both corn and grass plentifully (whereof more shall be said by and by) yet as long as the woods remain standing, it is unfit not only to be made either arable or meadow (as in it self is most evident) but even for pasture, by reason of the overmuch moisture, the roots of the trees staying the rainwater, so as it hath not the liberty to pass away readily, and their stems and branches hindering the free access of the wind and sun, whereunto cometh in many parts the ground's own watriness, occasioned by springs there arising, and by its situation apt for the gathering and keeping of water, which maketh them for the most part so muddy and boggy, that cattle cannot conveniently feed in them.

Woods much diminished in Ireland since the first coining in of the English.

IN ancient times, and as long as the land was in the full possession of the Irish themselves, all Ireland was very full of woods on every side, as evidently appeareth by the writings of Ciraldus Cambrensis, who came into Ireland upon the first conquest, in the company of Henry II. king of England, in the year of our


saviour 1171. But the English having settled themselves in the land, did by degrees greatly diminish the woods in all the places where they were masters, partly to deprive the thieves and rogues, who used to lurk in the woods in great numbers, of their refuge and starting-holes, and partly to gain the greater scope of profitable lands. For the trees being cut down, the roots stubbed up, and the land used and tilled according to exigency, the woods in most part of Ireland may be reduced not only to very good pastures, but also to excellent arable and meadow.

Through these two causes it is come to pass in the space of many years, yea of some ages, that a great part of the woods, which the English found in Ireland at their first arrival there, are quite destroyed, so as nothing at all remaineth of them at this time.

Diminishing of the Woods during the last peace.

AND even since the subduing of the last great rebellion of the Irish before this, under the conduct of the earl of Tirone (overthrown in the last years of Queen Elizabeth by her viceroy sir Charles Blunt, lord Mountjoy, and afterwards earl of Devonshire) and during this last peace of about forty years (the longest that Ireland ever enjoy'd, both before and since the coming in of the English) the remaining woods have very much been diminished, and in sundry places quite destroyed, partly for the reason last mentioned, and partly for the wood and timber itself, not for the ordinary uses of building and firing (the which ever having been a-foot, are not very considerable in regard of what now we speak of) but to make merchandize of, and for the making of charcoal for the iron-works. As for the first, I have not heard that great timber hath ever been used to be sent out of Ireland in any great quantity, nor in any ordinary way of traffick, but only pipe-staves, and the like, of which good store hath been used to be made, and sent out of the land, even in former times, but never in that vast quantity, nor so constantly as of late years, and during the last peace, wherein it was grown one of the ordinary merchantable commodities of the country, so as a mighty trade was driven in them, and whole ship-loads sent into foreign countries yearly, which as it brought great profit to the proprietaries, so the felling of so many thousands of trees every year as were employed that way, did make a great destruction of the woods in tract of time. As for the charcoal, it is incredible what quantity thereof is consumed by one iron-work in a year; and whereas there was never an iron-work in Ireland before, there hath been a very great number of them erected since the last peace in sundry parts of every province, the which to furnish constantly with charcoals, it was necessary from time to time to fell an infinite number of trees, all the loppings and windfals being not sufficient for it in the least manner.

Great part of Ireland very bare of Woods at this time.

THROUGH the aforefaid causes Ireland hath been made so bare of woods in many parts, that the inhabitants do not only want wood for firing (being


therefore constrained to make shift with turf, or sea-coal, where they are not too far from the sea) but even timber for building, so as they are necessitated to fetch it a good way off, to their great charges, especially in places where it must be brought by land and in some parts you may travel whole days long without seeing any woods or trees except a few about gentlemens houses; as namely from Dublin, and from places that are some miles further to the south of it, to Tredagh, Dundalk, the Newry, and as far as Dromore; in which whole extent of land, being above threescore miles, one doth not come near any woods worth the speaking of, and in some parts thereof you shall not see so much as one tree in many miles. For the great woods which the maps do represent unto us upon the mountains between Dundalk and the Newry, are quite vanished, there being nothing left of them these many years since, but one only tree, standing close by the highway, at the very top of one of the mountains, so as it may be seen a great way off, and therefore serveth travellers for a mark.

Many great Woods still left in Ireland.

YET notwithstanding the great destruction of the woods in Ireland, occasioned by the aforesaid causes, there are still sundry great woods remaining, and that not only in the other provinces, but even in Leinster it self. For the county of Wicklow, King's-county, and Queen's-county, all three in that province, are throughout full of woods, some whereof are many miles long and broad. And part of the counties of Wexford and Carlow are likewise greatly furnished with them.

In Ulster there be great forests in the county of Dunnagal, and in the north part of Tyrone, in the country called Glankankin. Also in the county of Fermanagh, along Lough Earn; in the county of Antrim, and in the north part of the county of Down; in the two countries called Killultagh and Kilwarlin, besides several other lesser woods in sundry parts of that province. But the county of Louth, and far the greatest part of the counties of Down, Ardmagh, Monaghan, and Cavan all in the same province of Ulster are almost every where bare, not only of woods, but of all sorts of trees, even in places which in the beginning of this present age, in the war with Tyrone, were encumbred with great and thick forests.

In Munster where the English, especially the earl of Cork, have made great havock of the woods during the last peace, there be still sundry great forests remaining in the counties of Kerry, and of Tipperary, and even in the county of Cork, where the greatest destruction thereof hath been made, some great woods are yet remaining, there being also store of scattered woods both in that county, and all the province over.

Connaught is well stored with trees in most parts, but hath very few forests or great woods, except in the counties of Mayo and Slego.