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Cookstown, Omagh & Dungannon - DESCRIPTIONS

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Cookstown, Omagh & Dungannon - DESCRIPTIONS

Transcribed by Teena

Cookstown, in the county of Tyrone, consists of one straight street upwards of a mile in length, and 150 or 160 feet wide, having a row of trees in front of the houses on each side. The town, when viewed from one end, has the appearance of an avenue of trees alone. Though the population is nearly 3000, the houses are of a humble description. The land about is fertile, and abounds with limestone : coals also have been raised near the town. Cookstown and the vicinity belong to Colonel Stewart, whose domain extends for several miles on each side of the town.

From this place to Omagh very little cultivation or improvement is observable. Indeed, during the whole of the way I witnessed only one attempt at superior management, and that was in the case of a very respectable looking man, who was working in his small garden, and had a little patch of clover. It is probable that he had seen Mr. Blacker's pamphlet.

At Omagh we held our examination in the Court-house, and had a numerous attendance.
The failure of the linen trade has been the means of throwing many of the inhabitants of this barony upon agricultural work, and of causing, accordingly, a surplus supply of labourers, seven or eight hundred of whom (it was stated) would work for what their meat would cost. There is no county in which the poor are worse off than they are in Tyrone. They evince the strongest anxiety to obtain work, but cannot. Drunkenness is on the increase here, and prevails to a much greater extent in periods of agricultural distress than at other times. Many unlicensed spirit-houses exist in different parts of the country.

Omagh contains only one pawn-office, a circumstance that may be accounted for from the fact that the labourers have nothing which the pawnbroker would accept. The people are wretchedly clothed here. It was the general desire of the meeting that a bank of some kind should be established, which would advance small loans to the farmers in time of pressure.

The cabins of the cottiers are mere mud hovels, unfit for the residence of human beings. They are built on the worst parts of the farms, and generally consist of but one smoky apartment, without window or chimney. Turf is the ordinary fuel all over the barony, and is abundant and cheap. The cottier is better off than labourers who have no cot-take, because he is certain of a supply of potatoes if the crop succeeds. But what a miserable certainty ! His work for nearly the whole year is valued at the paltry sum of from  four to five pounds. Besides paying the rent, it is a very common thing to give duty days, and in some cases both to landLord and agent. " Many of the small farmers," said the Rev. Mr. Stark, " have not drunk a drop of their own cow's milk, nor eaten a bit of their own butter, from year's end to year's end." The character of the cottiers who reside in remote places, on bogs or mountains, is that of a peaceable, humble, well-behaved people.

In the year 1802, Mr. M'Evoy (McEvoy.. transcribers note), in the statistical survey of the county of Tyrone, writes as follows:

"The poorer class cannot afford to use much butter, being obliged to sell the greater part of it in order to purchase necessaries, such as soap, candles, tobacco, and salt. In summer and autumn milk is chiefly used ; the remainder of the season, herrings are the most common food with the poor." From this extract it appears that the poor were much better off in 1802 and previously, than at the present time.  

The average size of farms in this barony is from eight to twelve acres. The junction of farms has not been very considerable, though every anxiety exists on the part of the landLords to effect it. " The truth is," said one of the witnesses, " the landLords allowed forty-shilling freeholders to become very numerous, and now they would wish to convert them into £10 freeholders." Here, as elsewhere, the majority of those present concurred in thinking that small holdings produce more in proportion than large ones, and that a small farmer can afford to till his farm better than a large one. The tenants, however, pursue no judicious system of farming, nor is any encouragement given to improvement either by landLords or agents. The only method adopted to recruit exhausted land is to let it rest or lie idle, and leave it to the unassisted care of nature. The usual rotation of crops is as follows: — 1st, potatoes; 2nd, oats; 3rd, flax with clover; 4th, clover; 5th and 6th, oats. Some take four or five crops of oats in succession.

About four years before we visited Omagh,emigration had taken place on a considerable scale ; latterly however, it had declined. The occupiers of farms will not give up their holdings on the condition of having their passage money to America paid for them ; " they have found it so hard to obtain a living," said one of the witnesses, " that if they have any means of subsistence at all they will not give it up. They know what they have here, but don't know what they may meet with there." The principal emigration had taken place among the industrious classes — those who had acquired a little money. Though carried on to a considerable extent, it has been by no means sufficient to reduce the competition for labour. To produce this effect, it must be not only great but constant. The witnesses were unanimous in considering that if a free passage to America were offered to those who were not in possession of land, great numbers, including many young women, would gladly avail themselves of the opportunity of emigrating. One of the witnesses shrewdly but superficially observed, that emigration made little difference, adding that more people are born in one night than emigration carries off in seven years.

The reader will not be surprised to be informed that the tenantry on the estates of absentees are in a much worse condition than those on the estates of resident proprietors. Under absentees, they got no sort of encouragement whatever ; how, indeed, as one of the witnesses, Dr. Harkin, asked, can landLords be expected to feel for distresses of which they know nothing ? It is customary throughout the country for the tenants to pay, in addition to their rent, one shilling in the pound to the agent, whose fees, by the way, as well as the rent and the duties, are sold, on the occasion of land being disposed of. The tenants are occasionally harassed most grievously by processes for arrears of rent said to be due many years ago — the tenants denying the justice of the demand. Dr. Harkin told us that he had known upwards of three hundred processes served in one day upon the tenants of a nobleman in that neighbourhood.

It is usual also in this part of the country for agents to receive money on the signing of leases, the general sum of derived from the small tenantry on these occasions being from five to ten pounds. As much as thirty, or even fifty pounds, has been given for the renewal of a lease. One of the witnesses, Mr. Auchinleck (the agent for the largest estate in the barony) informed us, that when proprietors receive their own rents, they actually receive agents' fees; and, on the signing of leases, duties and money. Rents generally are about 30s. the Irish acre. "My farm," said Robert Crawford, " stands me in a glass of whisky a perch." The general produce of the barony arises principally from tillage, but in the more elevated parts there is some rough pasturage. The average size of tillage farms is about twelve acres (Irish measure.) The soil is of a light brown colour, of moderate depth, and is considered by the farmers to be unsuitable for wheat. A few of the farmers have the appearance of respectability, and are intelligent men, but the generality of them are in a distressed condition, and are inferior to the farmers of Down and Armagh.

The Assistant Commissioners remarked that the tenants are all ignorant. If they only pay the rent, the tenants may do what they will with regard to the management of their farms. This was the sentiment expressed by Mr. Auchinleck.

Very few sheep are kept, not more than one to every twenty acres, and those of the Irish breed. A good bull is worth from four to five pounds, and a good breeding cow from four to seven.

The car with the revolving axletree and solid wooden wheels is still in use here, and the sled or slide is not uncommon. It has the appearance of the shafts of a cart, to the end of which are attached two rude pieces of wood which slide upon the ground. Upon this carriage a basket is placed to convey turf, hay, &c. These sledges are used on the mountain sides, being lighter to draw up the steep hills, and less subject to be overturned.

Although the roads in every direction were receiving great injury from the accumulation of water and mud upon them, we did not see, during the ten days we were in the barony, half a dozen men working upon them. Here, then, was a source of employment totally neglected.  

The yearly amount paid for grand jury cess is from three to four shillings the Irish acre. The amount of tithe per acre is generally two shillings. This barony forms no exception to the general rule as to early marriages.  

No Englishman could fail to be grievously shocked with the wretchedness exhibited in the streets of Omagh. An aged woman, nearly blind, and reported to be 115 years old, was asking charity in front of the Court house, and would have fallen down a precipice caused by an alteration in the street, if she had not been rescued by a gentleman near her. Another old woman crawls about the streets with a scanty and imperfect covering to those parts which common decency forbids to be exposed. Friday the beggars consider their legalized day for visiting the town, and they are remarkably industrious and sharp-sighted in the prosecution of their miserable employment. They kept a vigilant look-out for us at every turn, and if we happened to have no copper they begged for silver. These poor creatures made every exertion to intercept us before we reached the inn door, and I am almost ashamed to add, that when we did reach it before them, we experienced a sort of triumph, for it was impossible to give to all, and we had no principle to guide us in our selection. Our examination day afforded ample opportunity for seeing the different grades of beggars, many of whom are bent down with age and infirmity, and in rags — others, consisting of women with their children, of various ages, all well initiated in the practice of their art — whilst numbers of poor wretches are seen at the doors of the inhabitants, so weak, and blind, and lame, that they have to be assisted by their friends, or guided to the next door by the last contributor.

About three miles from Omagh are the estates of the Earl of Blessington, at present held under the Court of Chancery. Gentlemen's seats are not numerous in this neighbourhood — Lord Belmore, of Castle Coole, Lord Blessington, and Lord Abercorn, all absentees, being the principal proprietors.  


Mr. Blacker (Agent)  has introduced his improved system on the Dungannon School lands in the county of Tyrone, consisting of about 3,000 acres of property, and notorious for the misery and disorderly conduct of the inhabitants. He applied for the agency of this estate, which is an endowment of the School of Dungannon, for the purpose of trying how far the principle he advocated in his Prize Essay on the management of landed property in Ireland, might prove effectual in reclaiming both the land and the inhabitants.

We accompanied Mr. Blacker to these School lands. On crossing the Blackwater River near Fort Charlemont, on our way, we were not far from the farm of the late Dr. Richardson, of florin-grass notoriety, with which few agriculturists of any reading are unacquainted. The Doctor's great partiality for this grass induced him to designate it in his writings "his mistress." .

At Charlemont is a large fort, but only a small force of artillery is stationed at it. The town of Moy, on the north side of the river, is a place of some trade, and is approached by a wide and steep street, on each side of which is a row of fine elms.

Coal Island, through which we passed, can boast of coal pits and a spade manufactory, and has the advantage of a canal from Dungannon to Lough Neagh. By this navigation coals are conveyed from Coal Island, and timber and other articles returned.

Mr. Griffith, in his geological and mining survey of the Tyrone coal district, observes, that the Coal Island coal district is six miles long, from Mullaghmoyle, on the north, to Dungannon on the south. Its average breadth is about two miles, therefore the total extent may be about seven thousand acres. The Coal Island district is in the form of an oval. Its strata rest upon limestone ; the dip, in all the places where it is visible, is from the edge towards the centre of the district, which in this view may be considered as a mineral basin.

The Tyrone coal district (including, in additionto the Coal Island basin, the Annahone coal, of three hundred and twenty acres) is of trifling extent, when compared with the great southern and western coal districts of Ireland, but is superior to them in the thickness and quality of its numerous beds of coal. In the immediate vicinity of the village of Coal Island, there are seven workable beds of coal, mounting in the aggregate to 34 feet of coal ; in a depth, from the surface, of 244 yards 2 feet. The fine clay of the Tyrone district occurs immediately beneath the beds of coal. The country between the Collieries and Lough Neagh contains white potter's clay, of great superficial extent, and unknown thickness.

On first entering the School-lands at the south end of Lough Neagh, the quality of the soil was good, and the crops were flourishing ; but further towards the east is a tract of poor white sand mixed with bog.  The farmers have small parcels allotted them to improve, on which they grow cabbages and turnips ; fortunately for the cultivators of this light soil, there is a bank of clay not far distant.

Mr. Blacker proposes having a boat to convey the clay more readily across and along the side of the Lough. We passed over the bog to an island called Roskeen, where we found excellent wheat, oats, and green crops. This land is tithe free, and the rent is 23s. per acre.

The Dungannon estate contains a large tract of bog, which invariably attracted a number of poor settlers, in consequence of the cheapness of fuel. Before the introduction of the new system, the arable land was occupied in little detached patches. Mr. Blacker began by breaking up the clusters of old mud cabins, and insisting upon each person taking up his residence upon the land allotted to him, in a square holding, averaging about four acres for each family. The cottiers, or under tenants, were allowed to build on small edges of the bog which were reclaimable, and had a little assistance rendered them. A hundred and fifty comfortable houses have, I believe, have been built. The people, no longer crowded together in hamlets, are deprived of some of the causes which formerly led not only to disputes among them,but to the general corruption of their manners ; and the magistrates at the sessions have had occasion to remark that fewer cases of disturbance and complaint have come before them since the adoption of the new plan. Some houses are in process of building ; others have one bay or room already finished, and are preparing for an additional one ; and some of the cottiers have small comfortable looking cabins. The land is evidently undergoing great improvement; cabbages and turnips were growing upon poor sand, and on the poorest bog. This poor sand is let to cottiers at 4s. 9d. to 6s. 9d. per acre, the raw bog at from 2s. to 4s. 6d. per acre, in plots of from 1 and one half to 3 acres, and they consider it a great favour to possess this barren land on these terms, and with the assistance of clay and the manure from their stall- feeding, make it worth from 20s. to 25s. per acre.  

Though at first averse to the alterations made by Mr. Blacker, they are now contented, and look forward confidently to better prospects. I have no doubt, that in a short time this estate, instead of being what it was formerly, distinguished for the misconduct and misery of its inhabitants, will be a pattern of comfort, and peace, and successful cultivation. It is truly gratifying to observe the improvement extending through the country in consequence of the active exertions of Mr. Blacker, who, persuasive, enterprising, firm, and persevering, as well fitted for the noble task he has undertaken. Indeed, no adequate estimate can be formed of the value of his exertions. After a careful examination of these farms, I am fully convinced of the practicability of managing them on his system, with advantage to the owners, the tenants, and the country. If the plan were generally adopted, it would provide employment for all the labourers in Ireland, and convert it into a peaceful, prosperous, and happy country. That low rents and indulgence will not produce the desired effect, may be inferred from the fact that the estates of Lord Charlemont, though let much lower than they might be, and though the arrears incurred upon them are continually remitted, are incomparably worse managed than those of Lord Gosford which adjoin. The farmers, moreover, are less comfortable on the former property; yet Lord Charlemont is accounted one of the best, as he certainly is one of the most indulgent, of Irish landLords.

Francis Quin, on the Dungannon School lands, has 2A 2R 5P. of arable ground, two roods of which have been reclaimed since May 1834 ; he has also lR. 22p. of water meadow, making in the whole 2A. 3r 27p. In May 1834 he had the following stock, viz. two cows, one horse and three pigs ; in April 1835 he sold one cow and bought an additional horse ; in January 1835 he sold one pig, and kept the other two till June ; he has a family of ten, which, together with his stock, has been kept on the produce of the farm, with the exception of 8 cwt. of hay which he purchased, and a small patch of clover for his horse, which cost him 8s. only. Of the numerous farms under Mr. Blackers management, the last was particularly worthy of attention, and from what I saw I fully believe the tenant's statement. The manure arising from his housed stock increases the produce wonderfully. This man gets a double crop every year. Immediately on getting up his potatoes, or shearing his crop, he sows winter tares, or rape, on part of his land, and, by manuring it well, is enabled to mow this crop early in spring. His winter tares or rape being mown in April and May, he plants potatoes, or sows tares or turnips, which are followed by barley ; clover is sown in the barley ; and having a plentiful supply of manure at command, he is enabled to give the clover which he mows, a top dressing between some of the mowings. The result is, three good crops.

He plants cabbages in every vacancy, in the furrows, and the hedge-side; and these, with the addition of turnips, supply the cattle during the winter. The rape is ready by April, and lasts six weeks ; next come his winter tares ; clover and summer taxes which last till turnip time again. His wife and children chiefly manage the farm, he and his horse being employed in carting for hire.

I could not help regretting, when I encountered so much misery during my subsequent journey, that this system was not more generally adopted. If poor laws had been in operation previously to these cottiers being thus settled, they would all undoubtedly have become a burden on the parish ; but by the means pursued under Mr. Blacker's plan, they are enabled, not only to provide competently for their families, but to increase the rental of the estate. The Dungannon estate I consider a practical confirmation of every thing Mr. Blacker advances in his " Prize Essay," and a complete proof of the facility with which a surplus population of any district, in which the ordinary bad husbandry has prevailed, may be located on an adjoining reclaimable land, at a trifling expense, and with manifest advantage to the country.  

The numerous accounts of extraordinary produce on the farms which I examined, supply conclusive evidence of the utility of the system, and the manner in which it would tend, if extensively practised, to the general prosperity, by affording profitable employment to all the idle hands, and abundance of food and clothing at a cheap rate. By means of Mr. Blacker's plan, a farm of three acres is made to yield as much as one of ten under the old system. More flax was grown this year than formerly. The steeping was in full operation, and not a single spot in this part of the country was free from the strong effluvia which attends the process, and which at first I felt to be exceedingly offensive. To this unpleasant smell, however, considerations of general advantage soon reconciled me. The flax remains from six to ten days in the stagnant water, in which it is kept down by sods or stones, and ragweed. After being taken out, it is spread on the grass, and frequently turned. If possible, it becomes more putrid and scents the whole atmosphere. When sufficiently exposed to destroy the woody or worthless part, which may require a fortnight or three weeks, depending on the weather, it is then set up in small sheaves in the field to dry, and afterwards stacked, to be ready for the in-door operation of the farmer at a leisure time. Many small sod buildings, left open at the top to serve as a stove, or, as the farmers term it, a skey, are built by the sides of the fences near the cabins; they are four or five feet in diameter, and have a hurdle of sticks placed across them at a convenient reaching height (four feet, for instance) on which a small quantity of flax is spread to dry upon the hurdle over a turf fire. The next process is beating the flax with a mall, to break it, which process we frequently observed going on in front of the cabins and in the streets of the villages ; it is afterwards scutched, the more completely to break the woody parts and get rid of them. This has often latterly been done by machinery (the breaking it, by fluted rollers, and the scutching, by revolving wooden knives), but many still do it by hand ; and, in passing through the flax country, it is a source of amusement to see, under a grotesque hovel scarcely large enough to contain them, three or four rosy-faced girls scutching with all their might. This employment appears always accompanied with cheerfulness, and, not unfrequently, with a good-humoured joke for the passer by. The flax was a good crop; and according to the expression used by them, " it would set them on the pig's back," that is, enable them to eat part of their pig instead of selling it. The produce of flax is generally about from thirty to thirty-five stones per acre, which at 10s. is from £15 to £17- 10. per acre, but this is a high price. Some sow seed of their own growth instead of purchasing, but the flax is not of so fine a quality. Flax gives a heavier crop when the seed is not allowed to ripen.

Ireland, from the peculiarity of its climate, appears to be well adapted to the growth of flax. The heat is less scorching than in England, the sun being oftener obscured by clouds; and soft refreshing showers, favourable to luxuriant vegetation, frequently fall. Every encouragement should be given to the cultivation of flax. It affords abundant employment, both in its growth and its future preparation for the manufacturer —is very profitable — is an excellent nurse for the clover — and occupies the attention of the farmer when he is not engaged with other crops.

Mr. Lennox, steward to Dr. Blacker, in the Newry paper of 1836, gives some directions respecting the growth of flax, which are deserving of notice, not only as regards his judicious remarks, but on account of the great profit derivable from a crop of this valuable plant. I may mention here, on the authority of Mr. Bruce, that  when a tenant is poor, and has an acre or two of  land, he lets part to grow flax for £5 in hand, to pay his rent with: this is called the " dead horse." Dr. Blacker has let land to grow flax on at £5. 15s. per acre. Mr. Black sows two and a quarter bushels of flax to the acre, and from each bushel sown the produce should be from fourteen to twenty stones — say from thirty-five to fifty stones per acre, at 10s. per stone, which would be from £17. 10s. to £25.  

The Miseries and Beauties of Ireland By Jonathan Binns Vol 1 1837

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