Agriculture in Erris (1845)

Siobhan McAndrew
3 min readFeb 24, 2024

The Mayo Constitution, Tuesday 08 April 1845, p. 2.

AGRICULTURE IN ERRIS

The following evidence was given the Very Rev. J. P. Lyons, before the Land Commission:

“Are you sufficiently acquainted with the country to able to give us a short history of the former proprietorship of the land of which you have been speaking ? — The aboriginal proprietors of Erris were the Barrets, Burkes, Synotts, and O’Flahertys: but it seems they forfeited their right, or were deprived of it, for the whole of Erris was granted to a London Company by James I, or Charles I; and it passed from them to Sir James Shane [or Shaen], who was the farmer general of the revenues of Ireland in 1576. His son, Sir Arthur Shane, planted a Protestant colony there in 1712, and among the. number was a clergyman of the name of Tollet, who from the memorials that remain of him, seems have been a very benevolent man. The colonists got leases for lives, renewable for ever, of certain portions of the land. — Whether the entire of the land was leased not know; but as Bingham and Carter have a certain portion in their own hands, I am led to suppose that only a portion was leased to the colonists. Those colonists sub-let afterwards to tenants, generally from year to year, but sometimes for short tenures. They scarcely ever made any improvements, but got into the same run-rig system which was practised by the people under them. In general, they had a garden and favourite field near the house ; but in all other respects, they took their allotments among their tenantry, and fulling into the habits of the people became more Irish than the inhabitants. The colonists rendered no service in the way of example, and introduced no improvement in agriculture. Harrowing by the horse’s tail was practised there until put an end to it. I had a good deal of trouble in effecting that object, for I was obliged to make an experiment upon one of the countrymen by getting him to draw weight after him by the skirts of his coat. That man is still living upon whom I performed the experiment. You might see the poor horse, with the rope fastened to his tail, and then to the harrow; or if the hair of the tail was long, it was fastened by a peg into a hole in the harrow; and when thus harnessed, the man mounted upon him, and drove him over the field. The mode of cultivation was equally rude in all other respects; and at this day Erris is a century at least behind the rest of Ireland the knowledge of agriculture.

Does that practice at all prevail now? — No.

Can you say whether any of the lenses which were granted to the original colonists are still subsisting ? Yes, several of them exist to this day, but the holders are more or less embarrassed. The original lessees looked to the land alone for a provision for their children, whom they seldom if ever brought up to any sort of business of industry. Accordingly, some of them subdivided their holdings among their offspring, and others charged their heirs with heavy portions for their younger children; and hence it happens, that persons who have nominally large estates are paupers in reality, and badly able to uphold the rank to which they lay claim in society. The direct descendants of some of the original colonists still possess the lands of their predecessors — namely, the Wallaces, Tolletts, Caldwells, and Gambles.”

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Siobhan McAndrew

I research in the social science of culture and religion, moral communities and civic engagement. PPE, University of Sheffield