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A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 17


I generally spend my mornings here in riding to such places as my kind conductors think most worthy observation; I have been to see a large unfinished house of Lord Milton's at Shrone-hill, and other places of less note. But the only building worthy any remark, is the Abbey of Holy Cross the architecture of which, more than ordinarily elegant for this country, sufficiently rewarded the fatigue of a long ride.

I learn, from Mr. Armstrong, that this Abbey was founded in the twelfth century, by Donald O'Brien, whose monument is


still to be seen near the high altar. In the south aile is the shrine, wherein some pieces of the cross were supposed to be preserved; both of which are more highly embellished than any other Gothic remain I had seen in Ireland.

From what I have said in a former letter, you may conceive that agriculture is at a very low ebb in this country; I need not add that you may ride for miles, in the most fertile part of it, without seeing an acre of ploughed ground; except where potatoes had been, a year or two before. This is a subject I do not understand, but the process of cultivation, generally adopted by the poor, I hear, is this: the first year they plant potatoes upon the ley, the next they sow bere, the third wheat, and the fourth oats.

Their manner of planting potatoes is the following: after cutting the potatoe into several pieces, each of which must have what they call an eye, they spread these sets on the ridges of about four or five feet wide, which they cover with mould, dug from furrows on each side, of about half the breadth of the ridge. In Autumn,


when they dig out their potatoes, they sow the ridge, immediately before digging, with bere; and the same operation serves for gathering in their potatoes, and for covering the new sown seed. This method, you'll say, is facile enough; yet such is the fertility of the soil, that their crops are most abundant from it.

The above method, however, is not universal, for sometimes they do not dig out their potatoes, till the frost sets in; and as hard frosts are very rare in this climate, some dig only as they want them. Whence it happens, that if a nipping frost should chance to surprise them, many lose their whole crop, their chief subsistence; and then famine is sure to cling their bones the ensuing summer. Such are the effects of having little to do, that people become indolent and will do nothing.

The little culture, which is carried on, is exercised by the very dregs of the people, upon one acre or two, in the worst manner, subservient only to their immediate support, without any farther prospect. Their very implements of labour are of the most awkward and ineffectual forms.


When I tell you the price of lands here, you will perhaps suspect I report upon hasty information; yet be assured that 40s. an acre is the common rent of good lands, and that the best are rated at two guineas, which are 2l. 5s., and 6d. of this currency. It is true, that the Irish acre is larger than the English, in the proportion of the squares of the perches, viz. 7 and 5 1/2.

Mr. Armstrong, the rector of this very parish, has just taken a perpetuity of 280 acres, at 2l. per acre. And, upon my supposing to him, that his inducement to give so much, was a very good house and offices upon the grounds, he told me, that the same rent could have been had from a grazier, but that the owner made him a compliment of the bargain; and he at the same time assured me, that a great part of Tipperary and Limerick gave two guineas.

The rents are made almost entirely by grazing, and every care is taken to improve the breed of cattle. They bring over, at the peril of forfeiting both ship and cargo,


Lincolnshire rams; and the race of these are sold from five to twenty, and sometimes thirty guineas a ram.

The landlord, who gets his rent without trouble, and the grazier, who thrives upon depopulation, will tell you the lands of Munster are so rich, that they are injured by cultivation.

This, however, scarcely requires a serious answer; for, if their lands were as fruitful as Arabia Felix, industry would improve them; but they have many spaces that demand perpetual culture. Their meadows, mostly in their lowest and wettest grounds, have never been drained, manured, or sowed with grass seeds. If we add to this, what ground might be saved, by feeding their flocks with turnips, peas, beans, carrots, cabbages, &c. it will be evident that the same farms, now occupied by brutes principally, would maintain the same numbers still, together with farmers and manufacturers five-fold.

There is, I am told, a statute, unrepealed, enjoining the cultivation of not less than five acres out of each hundred, under


the penalty of 40s. But this act is as dead as the letters of it; for all the rich are delinquents, and none but the impotent poor are left to enforce the performance of it. Besides, the quantity to be tilled was inadequate to the purpose of population, and the penalty was too small for a sanction, if the quantity had been sufficient.

It may, after all, be questioned, whether any internal regulation, in favour of agriculture, can counterbalance the ill effects which result from the external embargo. Nothing could so effectually remedy these evils, as an open sea, and a free exportation. For, upon a dispassionate review of this matter, I am inclined to think that neither landlord, nor tenant, nor both together, are entirely in fault.

As the matter now stands, we take from hence when we are pinched, and possibly when it can be but ill spared; then, when we have served ourselves, we shut up their ports. This desultory mode cannot answer any great purpose, either to them or us; whereas, if Ireland were suffered to export, at all times, it would soon be allured to a


systematic industry, and become a perpetual granary to our manufacturing country.