Rev Thomas Radcliff’s Agricultural Survey of Kerry in 1814

Michael O’Donohoe’s papers include an extract from Rev Thomas Radcliff’s  agricultural survey of the Castleisland district conducted more than two hundred years ago.  The extract, transcribed below, captures social as well as agricultural change.


Kerry in 1814

At the commencement of this Barony, in its nearest approach to Killarney, is an extensive tract of bog, in some parts of it very reclaimable, (having a regular fall, with a level and grassy surface, carrying, in summer, a stock of heifers and dry cows) in other parts, a red flow bog of considerable depth.  Through the most improveable part, a new line of road has been lately executed, and some divisional drains begin to promise an attempt at its being reclaimed.


Having passed this great bog, you reach Mr Merydith’s demesne of Dicksgrove, the commencement of a very rich vein of land, which pervades this entire Barony.


Mr Merydith’s demesne is, in general, of good quality, yielding heavy crops of hay, wheat, oats, and potatoes.  The soil is strong clayey loam; some of it is light and under sheep walk, and along its verge is a tract inclining to moor, a large division of which is brought in each year under potatoes, by burning and liming, and then laid down to grass, with crops of oats.


Dicksgrove House in 1855 when the property was put up for auction
Dicksgrove House in 1855 when the property was put up for auction


Mr Merydith possesses a kind of oat, which he considers to be an Irish oat, very much resembling the potato oat in its good qualities, and not so liable to be shaken out when ripe.  He makes use of the Hereford plough, has some well trained bullocks, and plants his potatoes in the drill way.  He is very anxious to promote the improvement of sheep in his neighbourhood and on his estate, and has been presented with a South Down ram, by the Farming Society of Ireland, for that purpose.


He has, in his neighbourhood, abundance of lime, from 10d to 15d a barrel, of 42 gallons, at the public kilns.  It is burned in arch kilns, which are often sold in the bulk by measurement, being of different sizes, containing from 200 to 500 barrels.


‘Arch kiln is burnt with peat’

Mr Merydith is building a running kiln, for his own use, very few of which are to be met here, from the circumstance of their requiring coal as fuel; whereas the arch kiln is burnt with peat, which can be had in abundance.


The low and moory ground of this neighbourhood, when reclaimed by lime, becomes of meadow and fattening quality.  Mr Harnett’s two fields of this description, in all about 4 acres, laid down but two years back from a moory furze brake, with red and white clover, (having been prepared by a potato crop, with burning and liming,) had yielded upon the 25th of August, about four tons of hay, saved from the rank grass, which the cattle had refused; those fields having turned off six cows the same year, three of them to the butcher, and the remaining three to other pasture in forward condition.


Mr Powel, land steward to Mr Herbert of Muccrus, holds a farm under him, near Castle Island, which shews more of actual improvement, than any other in its neighbourhood.


The arable land was much worn, and the rough ground, very rough indeed, when Mr Powel commenced his operations on 140 acres, at £200 rent per ann. in the year 1806.  It is now well enclosed by him, partly with a wall five feet high, coped and dashed, partly with a bank and thorn hedge, with a dry wall face to the road; and is divided into square and level fields by quickset ditches; having also upon it, a neat farm house and offices built by himself; a young orchard, and excellent crops of potatoes and corn.


Farming Society of Ireland

The manure which he makes use of, exclusive of farm dung, is lime at 10d a barrel, on the spot, and compost of lime and soil.  He works the Hereford plough, (being himself a native of that country) with two bullocks and two horses, and, sometimes, with three horses at length.  He has a few South Down sheep, of good wool, and has every year disposed of all the ram lambs that he could spare, at five guineas each, which manifests the disposition of the Kerry gentlemen to extend the advantages of this breed.  The Farming Society of Ireland have presented Mr Powel with a South Down ram.


In this neighbourhood, it is a practice, in potato culture, to put the hot lime on the scored ridge of moory ground, and to cover it with the sods stripped from the furrows, with their grassy side downwards, afterwards to dung the ridge, lay on the potato sets, and cover from the furrows in the usual way; this is considered to produce the best crop.


Cut out moss near Castle Island, gives choice crops of potatoes by lime and dung.  Level marshy ground, when drained and limed with from 80 to 100 barrels an acre, without being broken up, comes in the third year to good meadow, as stated with respect to others parts of the county, and is considered to be more free from rushes, than that which has been reclaimed with lime, by having the surface broken.


Castle Island ‘almost in a state of nature’

In a wide district about Castle Island, the land is naturally rich, and the bogs, and some of the mountains, of the best quality to be reclaimed by lime; but, notwithstanding this, and the cheapness of that manure, there appears a want of industry to take advantage of the means of improvement so much within reach.  Six hundred acres of choice ground, immediately around Castle Island, are almost in a state of nature, and the town itself wholly un-progressive in improvement.


This is said to arise from the circumstance of its being the undivided property of six proprietors, (Lord Glandore, Lord Headly, Henry A Herbert, William John Crosbie (a minor,) Richard Chute, and William Merydith, Esqs,) who hold by lease for ever, under Lord Powis, an extensive tract of 42,000 acres, entitled the “Seignory of Mount Eagle Loyal”, all of which has been partitioned off, except these central 600 acres; which continue undivided, and from the circumstance of a minor being generally one of the six proprietors, when a lease happens to drop, none can be legally made of a sufficient term to encourage the improvement of the town and environs, which is glaringly exhibited by its general appearance, and by its market-house being in ruins.


The head rent of this property to Lord Powis is said to be £1800 a year, the present setting £18,000.  It is also said, but with what accuracy, the reporter cannot vouch, that his Lordship had, at one time, offered to take the 600 undivided acres in lieu of his head rent, for the purpose of improving the town and its vicinity, and of erecting buildings, and machinery, for a woollen manufacture, on a mill site close to the town, with a good fall and regular supply of water; this would indeed have been a valuable improvement to this county.  The establishment of a woollen factory would open a ready market for that article, and would be the means of covering the adjacent mountains with fine wooled flocks.


Town leases to expire

The town leases will be out in 14 years, and the proprietors may then have an opportunity perhaps (unless some unlucky minority shall interfere) of encouraging such improvements, as will not only enhance the value of the property, but contribute to the advantage and respectability of the county.


Upon the side of the mountain to the North East of Castle Island, Mr Connor, who has a lease for ever under Mr Rice, is making considerable improvements by lime, drawn up a steep and rugged road at great expence; but this mountain quality of soil dont require nearly so great a dressing as the low grounds, which are of clay; upon the latter, are generally put from 60 to 100 barrels an acre; upon the former, from 30 to 40.


The land about Castle Island, and from thence to Tralee, and Castle-Maine Harbour, is naturally very rich, with a lime-stone vein.  A park of 9 acres belonging to Mr Merydith near the town, fattens six cows and ten sheep, and generally turns off a second set, if put on in forward condition.


A field of Mr Harnett’s about a mile from that, containing 50 acres, fattened, for many years, heavy bullocks kept on it the whole year round, in number 32, with a strong proportion of sheep; but, if winter saved, would have fed a bullock for every acre.  Ground of this description sets as score land, or potato soil, for 5 and six guineas an acre, for two years successively, the tenant to dung it, at his own cost, the first year, and to have the benefit of the second crop, (which is always the best) at a similar rate, without adding any manure.


Dairies abound in the district

Dairies abound in the district about Castle Island.  They have here a very good description of cow, not of any distinct breed, but what may be termed an excellent grazier’s cow, of fair shape, and thrifty appearance, weighing, when fat, from 4½ to 6 cwt.


Dairy farms are managed in different ways.  In some cases the proprietor, both of land and stock, sets a certain number of cows, upon a given run, or scope of ground, by the year, for a particular sum, engaging that all the cows shall have calved by the 21st of June, or, in failure of this, allowing a drawback of four pottles of milk per day, (valued at one shilling) upon each cow, from the 21st of June to the day of her calving.


In other cases the land and cows are given up to the management of a dairy man, who is to have the privilege of two collop’s grazing (usually taken by putting on 8 sheep and a horse) he engaging to produce his employer  11/4 cwt of butter of first quality, one guinea horn money, as it is termed, for each cow, and for every 20 cows, a fat pig of 2 cwt; all extra gain to be his own.  By horn money, is meant an allowance for the sale or value of sour milk.


To every dairy farm a certain portion of meadow ground is annexed, for the winter provender, which the dairy-man is obliged to save at his own cost:  Should this supply fall short, the proprietor buys elsewhere, and the dairy-man draws it home.


This system is liable to many frauds, and much disappointment; for, at the best, what avails the dairy-man’s engagement, if he fail in the quantum promised, or if he be not honest enough to content himself with whatever surplus there may be, beyond the stipulated terms?  He is, in most instances, a person without substance, and needy, with a large family, depending, perhaps entirely, on the dairy for their support. If he dont make as much butter as he engages to do, he can’t produce it, and though he should, if he pleases to secrete a little, his want of solvency leaves the farmer with a remedy.


‘A stone rolled round with hair’

With respect to the quality of the butter also, disappointment may arise. In the Cork market, the qualities are distinguished into 1st 2d and 3d.  The 1st is 4s per cwt, higher than the 2d and the 2d 6s per cwt higher than the 3d.  The farmer naturally seeks to guard himself against the reduced prices, (the inferiority of quality turning upon the negligence of the dairy-man) and makes a provision in his agreement, that the difference between the 3d and 1st quality be made good in money, for which contingency he has but the same security.


To this may be added the dishonest, and disgraceful practices of this description of dairy-men, who (as has been mentioned to the reporter) in order to make the cows continue their milk, have recourse to stratagems to interrupt foetation, and when a cow has failed in her quantity from too thrifty a tendency, have been known to force down the throat a stone rolled round with hair to sap the constitution, and prevent the putting up of flesh, which is always inimical to the profits of the dairy-man, who has no interest in the animal beyond her milk.


This species of dairy, from the foregoing reasons, is not so much in use as formerly, but is, in some instances, still resorted to from necessity; for, in this county, where the population is not sufficient to cause a great competition for farms out of lease, and where the general form of all leases comprizes a clause of surrender, which, if the take be unfavourable, or unfortunate, is always acted upon, the proprietor is often obliged to stock the land himself with dairy cows, and to take his chance in the manner above stated; but most people endeavour to set, at a fair rent, to a substantial cow-keeper; or, if they can find an honest and confidential servant, to commit the dairy management to his care, at certain wages, and receive the entire produce for their own account.


This is the case in a dairy belonging to Mr Hussy, near Castle Island, which consists of 36 cows.


One barrel of cream in two days

The produce in the summer months is one barrel of cream in two days, which yields one firkin, or fullbound, of butter, of about 62lb weight.


The season of dairy produce may be limited to eight months, the latter four yielding but half the quantity of the first four months, when the cows are fresh, and the pasture luxuriant: if calculated upon this principle, the return would be within a fraction of 4½  cwt per cow.


In this dairy of thirty-six cows, 72 pecks or vessels, in which to set the milk, are necessary; each peck, being of cooper’s work, and circular, is five inches deep, and twenty in diameter.  The milk is let stand in these for two or three days, as occasion may require.  From May to September, the milk is set but two inches deep in the peck, from that time forward about four inches; a greater body being necessary to throw up the cream, as the weather becomes cold.


The upper surface, or skin of the cream, (which has the appearance of leather) is first taken off, then the coat which lies between that and the sour milk; these two skimmings go to the churn, and lie in a body for two days previous to being churned.  The upper part of the sour milk is given to the servants, and the lower part to 14 large pigs, and three calves.


The barrel churn is made use of, and, in about an hour and a half, produces the butter.  It is a simple and effectual churn, worked by hand between two uprights, and delivers it contents readily to the cooler; in this large vessel, the butter is gathered; and when completed, and packed, as soon as a load of 12 or 14 firkins is made up, it is sent off to Cork, a distance of 40 miles.


This dairy of 36 cows is conducted, and managed by one man, one woman, and two girls, in a shabby and apparently inconvenient house, of mud walls unplaistered, and without windows; the prevalent idea being, that either lime or glass would be injurious to the butter process.  A dairy house, well constructed, and neatly kept, would no doubt be more agreeable to the eye, but that it is not absolutely necessary, is obvious, from the high esteem in which the Kerry butter is held at the Cork market.


Cabbage chopped, boiled, and mixed

The pigs, in addition to the sour milk, have the assistance of cabbage chopped, boiled, and mixed with the milk; which is their entire diet in the summer: previous to being sold out, they are pushed forward by potatoes.


In this neighbourhood, they are bought in the spring, at the fair of Scantaglin, (where from 300 to 500 are exposed for sale) from 25s to 50s per; and are sold out fat, 17th December, at the same fair, from two to six guineas each.  The kind is a well formed, deep bodied, white pig, easily fattened.


A few miles from this, a cheese dairy had been undertaken; but it was relinquished the following year.


The most skilful management is required in a cheese dairy, to rival the profit upon butter at the present prices.


A tenant of Mr Harnett, of the name of Kenny, has upon his farm 27 dairy cows; and upon another farm, of College ground, consisting of 27 acres, he has 17 cows; for this latter farm he pays 100 guineas a year, very choice ground.  The 17 cows which it supports, are said to produce one ton of butter, not quite  11/4 cwt each, and with the sour milk six calves are reared, and six pigs fatted.  Even allowing butter at £6 per cwt almost all the profit in this case arises from the calves and pigs; but the rent is very high, and it is not unlikely that the return of butter may be something more than is admitted.


The pigs here, laid in at May, for 30s will bring 4 guineas at October.  Each dairy-man has about a rood of cabbage, which he cuts small, and boils, and chops into a vessel of sour milk, in which state he leaves it to sour still more, before it be given to the pigs: in September they are fed with some boiled potatoes, and in the next month are produced very fat for sale; others are then bought in, in forward condition, and fattened before spring.


A colony of Palatines established

Between Castle Island and Tralee, (a rich vein of lime-stone soil,) are many dairies, and much good meadow, with some corn.  A strong proportion of tillage appears upon the lands of Ballymac-Elligott, the property of Mr Blennerhassett, where a colony of Palatines has been for many years established.  From the deaths of the original settlers, and the intermarriages of the younger branches with the natives of the country, many of the good farming habits of the former have been lost, and some of the bad ones of the latter introduced; however there are still some points attended to, worthy of notice and imitation.


Their houses are neat and comfortable, and have, in general, a little orchard and cabbage garden annexed to each.  So early as the middle of August, they had their hay home and carefully thatched.  Whatever implements they possess, they keep, when out of use, in open sheds, protected from the sun and rain.


They uniformly drill their potato crop and are, altogether, a people peculiarly well conducted, industrious, and regular, and, one would think, desirable as a tenantry.


Their farming succession is drilled potatoes and wheat merely; and the ground, once broken up, is kept in perpetual tillage.


When they break up lea ground, they work it down, as it is termed here, and in the first instance, take a crop of drilled potatoes; dropping the manure into the drills from the cart or car.


In many parts of this system, their practice appears to be injudicious.


If they were to introduce into their succession a crop of clover or vetches, how valuable would they find it; and if instead of working down the lea, by reiterated labour, to reduce it to a proper tilth for drills, they were to adopt the simple preparation of a crop of lea oats, how much more profitably would it turn out?  But at present they are in some measure prohibited from this by the badness of their plough, which is that of the country, and as vile an implement as could be found in any part of the Island.  They originally used the wheel plough of Germany, of clumsy construction, but executing a level and rectangular furrow.  While the old wheelwright lived, and for some years after his death, the farm was supplied with ploughs which he had made, but for want of foresight in training some other person to fill his place, they have lost an implement, which would have enabled them to have their crops less infested by weeds, than those which came under the observation of the reporter.



Collection Code: IE MOD/55/55.1/55.1.8. Image of Dicksgrove House in 1855 when the property was put up for auction see Collection Code IE MOD/55/55.1/55.1.202.