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

chapter 20

Of the Turf, Lime, and Brick, and the Manner of making those things in Ireland, item, Of the Glass made in Ireland

Of the two sorts of Irish Turf.

Turf being very much used throughout all the land (as we have said before) is of two sorts, according to the difference of the bogs out of the which it is taken. That which is taken out of the dry bogs, or


red bogs, is light, spongy, of a reddish colour, kindleth easily, and burneth very clear, but doth not last.

The other to the contrary, which is raised out of the green or wet bogs, is heavy, firm, black, doth not burn so soon, nor with so great a flame, but lasteth a great while, and maketh a very hot fire, and leaveth foul yellowish ashes.

It is the observation of women, that the linnen which is dried by a fire made of this last sort of turf, getteth a foul colour, be it never so white washed and bleached, and groweth yellowish in that manner as that it can hardly be got out again.

The Manner of making the Turf

THE first sort of turf costeth but little pains in the making; for being digged, and having lain some days a drying (first spread out thin and single upon the ground, and afterwards piled up in little heaps) it is brought into the barn.

But black turf cannot be made without more trouble. First they mark out convenient places, for only those are fit for it to which some paths do lead, and which in themselves are not too miry, and too deep, but have a firm and sandy ground underneath, within the space of four or five feet, or thereabouts. Having found out such a place, if it be too watry, they make some trenches, into which the water descending out of that part of the bog wherein they intend to work, may by them be carried to some place fit for to receive it, to the end that the bog being thereby grown somewhat dryer and firmer, may the better bear the labourers without sinking too deep into it. Then they fall to the business, dividing it so among the labourers, that one part of them do dig out the earth, or rather the mud (for all the earth whereof this turf is made, is thin and muddy) and by spades-full cast it on a heap, either by the side of the pit, or somewhere within the same, where others stand, who very well work it, turning it to and fro, and then with their shovels fill it into certain wooden trayes, amongst the English in Ireland peculiarly called Lossels; the which being full, another part of the labourers draw the same, with great cords fastened to them, to some dry place within the bog, or by the side thereof, where having poured out the mud, they go back to fetch more, and so go to and fro all day long. On that dry place where the mud is poured forth, sit certain women upon their knees, who mold the mud, using nothing else to it but their hands, between the which taking a part of it, they press them together in that manner, that their hands meeting above, the turf is fashioned flat and broad beneath, growing narrower towards the top, which being done, the turf is let lye upon the ground the space of a week or more, according as the weather is, and being reasonably well dry'd, it is piled up in little heaps, leaving every where empty spaces between, that the air and the wind passing through them, they may dry the sooner.


The charges of making Turf

IRELAND is full of bogs, that every man almost hath bog enough upon his own land to make turf for his family and for all his tenants; so that the turf doth cost most men no more than the hire of the labourers who are employed about it. Those that begun early in the year, whilst the labourers had but little employment, gave ordinarily, besides meat and drink, three pence sterling a day to every man, and two pence to every woman, four pence a day being the ordinary price, and when it was at the dearest, five pence. Twenty men made in two or three days as much turf as was suffcient for the whole year's firing of a great family, of which number five men did dig and cast up the mud, five wrought it and filled it into the trays, and ten were busied in drawing the trays to the place where the turf was molded by the women; who went so nimbly to work with it, that only two of them were sufficient to keep twenty men at work.

Of the Lime, and the manner of making it of Lime-stone.

ALL the lime in Ireland is made not of the shels of all sorts of shel-fish, as in Holland, and some other countries, but only of stone; and the grey freestone, whereof we have spoken in the precedent chapter, is very fit for it, especially when it is not newly come out of the quarry, but taken off old buildings. But a peculiar sort of stone properly called lime-stone, is best for it. This stone is of a grey colour, tending to a dark blew, which being broke, a white dust out of it doth fly abroad, and it is very common throughout all Ireland, but especially in the provinces of Munster and Connaught, lying not deep within the ground, but very near to the surface of it, and in many places above ground.

The manner of burning it into lime, usual over all Ireland, is this; in the side of some little heighth they make a great pit, round or square according as convenience is offered, of that bigness as may hold forty or fifty barrels, and of that fashion that being many feet wide at the top, it doth by degrees grow narrower towards the bottom, in the same manner as the furnaces of the iron-works. The inside of this pit they line round about with a wall built of lime and stone, at whose outside near the bottom a hole or door is left, by which to take out the ashes, and above that an iron-gate is laid, which cometh close to the wall round about: upon this they lay a lay of lime-stone (being first knockt asunder with a great iron hammer, and broke into pieces of the bigness of a fist, or thereabouts) and upon that a lay of wood or turf, or a certain sort of sea-coal, the which being wonderful small, and peculiarly called comb, is hardly used for any other purpose. Upon that they lay another of lime-stone, and so by turns, until the whole kiln be filled, ever observing that the outmost


lay be of wood, turf, or comb, and not of lime-stone; which being done, the kiln is set afire until all be burnt.

Another manner of burning Lime used in Ireland.

THERE is another manner of burning lime used in Ireland, in kilns built altogether above ground, and incomparably bigger than the other, insomuch as to the quantity of three hundred barrels of lime at once is made in them. In these kilns they burn whole stones without breaking them into pieces as the others, and that only with wood (turf or comb not being fit for it) whereof they consume a huge deal, it being necessary from time to time to put new wood into them, to which end three or four men day and night do stand by the kiln to keep the fire from decaying or slackning.

These (called French-kilns, because the use of them was first received from thence) have ever their walls made of lime-stone, the which in the same manner are turned into lime, so as there remaineth nothing standing of these kilns after that the work is accomplished, and the lime taken away.

Now albeit that in these kilns a very great quantity of Lime is made at a time, nevertheless it hath been found by experience, that they are much more unprofitable than the others, because they consume much more firing in proportion, through the continual renewing of the fire, and require the constant labour of several men all the while they are burning, which commonly is the space of three days and nights. For these reasons was the use of these kilns, which never had been very general in Ireland, more and more left off in these last years, and the others almost only made use of; in the which the lime came to stand them, who burnt it, in no more than four pence the barrel at the most, all manner of expences being reckoned, and but three to them who had the best conveniencies.

Of the Brick

IN every part of Ireland there is found a kind of clay very fit for to make bricks, and all sorts of potters-ware, although the Irish never had the wit or industry to make use of it for either of these two ends; yea they have ever been so far from making any earthen vessels, that even the use thereof hath been very rare amongst them, and to the most part unknown, not only before the coming in of the English, but also since, yea even until these very last times; although a great number of English potters in several parts of the land had set up their trade, so as all kind of earthen ware was very common, and to be had at very easie rates.

And as for the brick, they have been little used in Ireland even among the English themselves for a great while, but of late years they begun to be very common, as well in the country, as in the cities, especially Dublin, where all the new buildings (the which not only in handsomness, but also in number,


do surpass the old) are all made of brick. But that which is made in Ireland for the most part is not so good, as that of other countries, not so much for any unfitness in the clay it self, as for want of handling and preparing it aright, as may easily be conceived by the following description of the manner they use to make it.

The manner how they make their Brick in Ireland.

THEY dig a great square pit, taking away all the uppermost earth until they come to a good clay (which commonly lyeth one or two spits deep); this they digg up throughout the whole pit, and having broke it very small with the spade, they do by degrees pour a great deal of water amongst it, working and labouring it together with the spade and their feet, till the whole mass become uniform, firm and tough like stiff dough, the which then in wheel-barrows is carried out of the pit to a place where certain long tables are set up, to each of which tables is allotted one man, one woman, and one boy. The woman taketh up the clay by handfulls, from the heap lying upon the ground, and reacheth it unto the man, who thrusteth it into a little wooden form without bottom, strawing now and then some sand upon the table, that the clay may not stick to it and so having given them their due fashion, the boy doth carry them from thence to a place, where he laveth them all upon the ground, not under any covert, but in the open air. After they have lain some days, and are somewhat dryed, they are piled up in small heaps, twenty or thirty in a heap, making the heaps transparent in the same manner, as we have shewed above of the turf, some days after those little piles are made into greater, which are many feet long, and five or six feet high, but not above two feet, or two and a half broad (making the lays transparent, with some empty space between brick and brick, even so as in the small piles) the which at the top are covered over with straw, laying upon the straw broad green sods, to keep off the rain. Having lain so until they be quite dry, they make great ovens or kilns of them, filling them within the same, strawing betwixt them of that small sort of sea-coal, whereof we have spoken heretofore, called comb or coome, and having covered over the kiln with the same clay, whereof the bricks are made, the thickness of two handbroads or thereabouts, they set it afire with wood underneath, and continue the fire until not only all the bricks piled within the kiln, but all the walls quite through, and at the outside as well as at the inside, be perfectly burnt, and turned into good brick, wherein oftentimes, through the unskilfulness or neglect of those who make and fill these kilns, and of those that govern the fire, there is great loss, and that two manner of ways. For sometimes great part of the bricks is found not to be sufficiently nor uniformly burnt, and on the other side it falleth out oftentimes, that great quantities are reduced into one, being burnt, or half-burnt into great unshapely masses or lumps which are good for nothing.


They do commonly burn in those kilns two or three hundred thousand bricks at a time; the which for the most part, all charges being reckoned, come to stand betwixt six and eight shillings sterling the thousand.

Of the Glass made in Ireland

WE shall conclude this chapter with the glass, there having been several glass-houses set up by the English in Ireland, none in Dublin or other cities, but all of them in the country, amongst which the principal was that of Birre, a market town, otherwise called Parsons-town, after one sir Lawrence Parsons, who having purchased that lordship, built a goodly house upon it; his son William Parsons having succeeded him in the possession of it; which town is situate in Queens-county, about fifty miles to the south-west of Dublin, upon the borders of the two provinces of Leinster and Munster; from this place Dublin was furnished with all sorts of window and drinking glasses, and such other as commonly are in use. One part of the materials, viz. the sand, they had out of England, the other, to wit the ashes, they made in the place of ashtree, and used no other. The chiefest difficulty was, to get the clay for the pots to melt the materials in, this they had out of the north.