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Markethill Agricultural Dinner

The Annual Agricultural Dinner in 1845 at Markethill, County Armagh

Road Bridge on the Shanecracken Road, Markethill, County Armagh

(a new system of agriculture)

According to annual custom we have now to report Lord Gosford’s agricultural dinner for this year, which certainly does not yield in importance to any that have preceded it. The company was limited, as usual, to the small farmers of the Gosford estate, with several however, from the adjoining properties, most distinguished for their agricultural improvement; and there were not wanting some of the higher orders, who, from feeling an interest in the objects of the meeting, had come from considerable distances to take part in the proceedings – among whom may be mentioned;

Dr KANE, the well known author of the “Industrial Resources of Ireland”

Hon. J. HEWETT, of Meenglass, co. Donegal

W. S. TRENCH Esq. Carricknacrosss, agent to the Shirley estate

P. FOXALL Esq. of Killevy Castle, Dundalk

Mr. SKILLING, from the model farm of Glasnevin

Mr. Barnet M’KEE Esq.

Mr M’KEAN of Ballyharridan

and others, more in the immediate neighbourhood. Great regret was occasioned by the absence of the lord of the soil, the Earl of Gosford, who was prevented from attending by a sudden fit of the gout, which confined him to his room.

Owing to this unfortunate circumstance, the chair was taken by Mr BLACKER, who, after the usual loyal toasts had been drunk prefaced the health of his lordship by reading to the company a letter from him, which will, doubtless be perused by our readers with no small interest, coming as it does, from one of that class of persons – the Irish landlords – so unjustly and so indiscriminately abused by almost every portion of the English daily press. Having reminded the meeting that the introduction of everything relating to religion and politics was prohibited, nor could any toasts be allowed unless previously sanctioned by the chair, the object being to prevent their time being unnecessarily occupied by matters foreign to the objects they held in view, he then proposed “The health of the Earl of Gosford, the lord of the Soil” saying he would not offer a single observation on his part to recommend the toast to their adoption. In the letter he was about to read to them, dictated by his lordship from the bed of pain to which he was unfortunately confined, he would be found to speak to their feelings much more powerfully than any one else could speak for him.

He then read the following letter
“Gosford 19th Dec. 1844

My Dear Friends
It is a matter of sincere disappointment to me to find myself, by a sharp attack of the gout, precluded from enjoying the happiness I had anticipated of meeting you all at our annual dinner this day. There are one or two observations which I should like to have addressed to you in person, but this being impossible, I shall as briefly and as clearly as I can, endeavour to lay them before you on paper. I am inclined to think that some erroneous opinions have been formed as to the nature and objects of our Markethill Society, We never professed to be a meeting for jollification and speechifying, but solely for business; and though we have, through the assistance of our friend Mr. SMALL passed our evenings merrily, as well as usefully, still we have never lost sight of the important objects for which we were associated. In carrying out those objects, our first endeavour was to collect around us as many of those little farmers or small holders of land as we could manage to accommodate, making our selection from those who had shown an anxiety and a disposition to give a fair trial to a new system of agriculture, which they only knew by recommendation, but wanted the information necessary to reduce it to practice. To attain this object it was of great matter to prevail on those to be our guests who were best qualified to supply such information. Allow me to congratulate you all upon the success that has attended this effort, and at the same time to express my hearty thanks to those kind and benevolent individuals who have honoured us with their company on this occasion and who have so kindly come forward to communicate to you those principles, in adherence to which alone you can reasonably expect a favourable result. It is a happiness to me to know that the efforts hitherto made have been productive of much good, though perhaps not to the full extent I could have wished, or might reasonably have expected; but I look forward with great confidence to the results of the valuable information you may receive during this evening’s meeting; not only let that monster, prejudice (though I admit somewhat subdued), prevent you from giving an attentive ear to the advice you receive, and from practically carrying it into effect. It has been said that a landlord should consider himself with regard to his tenantry, as the father of a large family. I approve of the saying and admire the sentiment; but still there is another character which I would almost say he is imperatively called to fill and I know no better term to apply to it than that, of a co-adjutor; for by aiding and co-operating with the tenant, in his laudable and industrious pursuits, he enlarges the mind and raises the independence of the man, giving him a habit of self exertion, which is so indispensable in promoting the comfort and welfare of himself and his family, so that were I obliged to select one of those characters, the latter is the one I should fix upon, persuaded that it would lead to the greatest practical good of those whose welfare I feel it my happiness, as well as my duty to watch over and promote. I shall not trespass on your time and patience further than to repeat my assurances that, though I have not the happiness to be among you, I feel not the less interested in this evening’s proceedings. With hearty desire for the success of the object for which you are assembled, believe me your sincere friend and well-wisher.
Gosford

His Lordship’s health having been drunk to with all enthusiasm, which may be better imagined than expressed.

The chairman called for the decision of the judges to the Challenge cup presented by the Earl of Gosford to the Markethill Agricultural Society, to be awarded to the tenant who has the best cultivated and best appointed: farm above 10 acres on his estate, to become the tenant’s property if kept possession of for 3 successive years. Mr James BLACK, of Lattery, the winner of the cup last year, being also successful this year.

Mr. Crozier CHRISTIE gave a detailed account of the candidates farms.

The Chairman then called on the Secretary of the Markethill Farming Society to read out the names of the successful competitors for the best cultivated green crops, thorough draining &c. and then drank to the health of Mr Alexander SMALL, the successful competitor for the neatest and best cultivated farm and establishment.

Mr. SMALL said that he endeavoured to do as well as he could at home, in his own quiet way, but that he could not compete with the great farmers, such as Mr BYERS and Mr. BLACK. He would, however, be well content if he could rival some of his very humble neighbours, one of whom, with 3 acres, contrives to bring up a family of 7; and another with 4 acres, a family of nine. He considered the introduction of guano as the greatest benefit that had ever been conferred. He had paid formerly £6 for manure and £2 worth of guano gave him a crop equally good; but, notwithstanding all this, the furrow draining in clay soil, must precede every other improvement. Besides this, there were other things not to be neglected. He had formerly said there were 3 things necessary to make the farmer’s character such as it ought to be- namely industry, perseverance, and punctuality, by a strict attention to which the farmer must always be respectable. In addition to these 3 he wished to add a 4th, which he thought was indispensable to the farmer’s success, and that was to have capital in proportion to the size of his farm; a farmer without capital was like a mill in back water, much labour and little speed. Want of capital caused want of punctuality and want of punctuality brought annoyance and vexation on himself, on the agent, and every one else that has dealings with him. He would recommend all farmers instead of laying out their money in doubling their land, to lay it out in doubling their produce, which would come to the same thing in one sense but would be found better in another, as he would have only half the rent to pay.

The reference to the small farmers in this speech excited great interest, and the chairman proposed to drink to their health, which accordingly was done, but afterwards it appeared one was a shoemaker and the other a brogue-maker and they did not, therefore, depend on the farms entirely for support.

The chairman next gave the Judges of the Market Hill Society’s premiums for the best cultivated farms and green crops, which was responded to by Mr RINGLAND, who said; “being one of the judges in company with James SCOTT and Alexander MITCHELL, chosen by the Society for awarding the crop premiums, I beg to offer the following remarks taken in the course of our visit,

In the first place there is a very visible improvement beginning to exhibit itself on most of the farms that we have visited, by the levelling of the old useless and crooked fences, which were more a nuisance than a real benefit, being a loss of land and labour to vermin. This laudable improvement, I am happy to be able to communicate is beginning to be generally attended to, and will soon add much to the benefit to those who are adopting it.

The next improvement that attracted our notice was the adopting of a more regular rotation of the straightening of the crooked ridges, and the filling up of the large drains or ditches along the fences. We were much gratified to observe the particular attention and care that was directed to the accumulation and preservation of farm yard manure. A great many we observed to have sunk wells, or ponds, for receiving the liquid manure, that is sometimes very improperly allowed to run to waste, notwithstanding its being the most important part of all the manure.

Furrow draining has engaged the attention of almost every person whose farm we visited; and I am happy to be able to state that they have executed it on a very good principle, namely in a line with the declivity with the drains at suitable distances from each other, as the soil was retentive or porous. There is one very good feature in the making of drains in this country, which is that they are made sufficiently deep, more so than is usually the case, with parallel drains. They are generally found to be made from 34 to 36 inches deep, which is very answerable for this locality. It is not necessary to dwell here upon the many and important advantages that arise to the farmer from the draining of his land when such is requisite. It is the precursor of every other improvement in the farming department. The deepening of the soil is beginning also to attract the attention of a good many within the range of this society’s influence, and until such be adopted generally, the benefit arising from draining will be limited comparatively.

Such is being affected in almost every instance on the small farms where it has been attended to by spade husbandry. Notwithstanding all the improvements, there is something still to be done, which I, in common with my brother judges, am sorry to say, has been neglected, and that is adopting the requisite regularity in the formation of the drills in the turnip crop. One instance will serve to illustrate a good many facts with regard to the irregularities that are apparent, namely, that upon Mr O’HAGAN’S farm some of the drills were 29 inches apart, and some were 30, whilst others were only 25 inches. They received an excellent after culture, and the turnips were a very fine crop, but in consequence of the irregularities of the drills, they only weighed at the rate of 23 tons three-quarters to the acre. They would have weighed 30 tons were the drills only 26 inches wide, or 28 inches, where extra of manure was given, but the crop has improved since.

With respect to the best tillage farm we visited a good many that were offered up for competition, and none was so commendable as Mr A. SMALL’S of Shanecracken. It consists of 25 acres and is divided into 9 fields. There is on each field a good iron gate with suitable pillars. The housing is in excellent repair, and hedges properly trimmed, and the fields judiciously ridged and entirely free from weeds. The management of the turnip crop we consider very judicious; although sown on the 10th July, they are a good average, from the great attention paid during their growth. Mrs. SMALL also deserves particular credit for the very superior management of her flower garden, which is the admiration of every visitor and is conducted by herself alone. The stock on Mr SMALL’S farm is proportionate to the number of acres. The cause of his late sowing of turnip was owing to a failure in the 1st crop.

The farm of Mr. George SCOTT, of Lurganboy was the next we visited. It contains 41 (?) acres divided into 11 fields, well fenced and well ridged. He follows the 4 course rotation and his land was proportionately cropped. The housing was in very good order, the offices well arranged, and the dung heap very judiciously placed. There is a seeming improvement in the management of almost all the farms that we visited and they bid fair to offer well for the next year.

We observed that the growth of flax is very much attended to by all and numerous complaints were made that although great trouble was taken, still the crop did not meet the expectations of the growers. This, I think, arose from its not having a proper place in the rotation. Where the 4 course is adopted, the better way would be to put only half the manured ground under flax, and the other half under oats; on the 5th year reversing their places. By such a mode the flax would come on the same ground only every 9th year.

In conclusion, it is but justice to remark that on Mr. P. O’HAGAN’S farm the turnip crop is at present nearly equal in quantity to that of the highest we visited, notwithstanding the drills being a little too wide apart, in consequence of being formed by an inexperienced ploughman.”

The chairman here observed that formerly his lordship had given premiums for furrow-draining, horse-feeding, &c. to induce the tenantry to make a trial of what he recommended, but when this object was accomplished, all his premiums were withdrawn, as he had no wish to induce his tenants to continue this practice, for the sake of premiums, what was not worth practising for its own sake. The premiums, therefore, which they had just heard read, were premiums offered by subscription to the tenants, to be competed for by themselves and the only premium offered directly by his lordship was a challenge cup for the best cultivated farm above 10 acres to be competed for by such members of the Markethill Farming Society, as were his lordship’s immediate tenants, which has just been adjudged to Mr James BLACK and a challenge clock for farms under 10 acres, open to be competed for by all his tenants of that rank, to which he had added, this last year, a premium for the persons who obtained the highest price for their butter in the London market, and another for the better providing of tanks for liquid manure. This latter, he was sorry to say, was withheld for want of compliance with the plan laid down, but as the value of the liquid manure was daily rising in the estimation of the farmers, he was sanguine enough to expect that before another meeting, there would be a considerable competition for this premium, which his lordship means to consider for another year and had constructed 2 models, one at the house of the New Agricultural School and the other at the Agriculturist’s (Mr RINGLAND’S) Model Farm, as a pattern for competitors. Having said thus much, he would now call upon Mr HERD, one of the judges for deciding the competition for the clock, to say to whom it was awarded.

Mr. HERD having given in the award of the judges in favour of J. BEATTY, who holds 9 acres of land, near Hamilton’s Bawn

Mr. John BEATTY said – “I hold 9 acres and a few perches of land in my farm – house-stead, street and roads included. This is only the 3rd year I have been in this place. Being poor, wet, and weedy. I could keep but 1 cow on it for the 1st year. I have now 3 cows and heifer. My manure is increasing as much as my stock and the judges say I have an abundance of provision for my stock this year. I have thoroughly drained 100 perches, part of which grow nothing previously but rushes and sour grass, as it was wet and weighty land. I had a better crop of potatoes on the drained land than on the part of the land that was not drained, although that was of a superior quality. I have set potatoes on a composition of liquid manure and rich soil-serapings and gatherings, which will be found in all cases profitable to the farmer. I have also adopted the use of guano, and top dressed my young clover with it in the beginning of April, on wet mornings, and in 10 days after, it could be observed much greener than the rest of the field. It was cut 10 or 12 days earlier. I set potatoes on guano lime and soil, and farm-yard manure. The portion planted on guano was one-fourth better than that on the lime, and as full a crop as that on the farm-yard manure, but of a larger size. I sowed carrots on guano and had an excellent crop. I had but 4 and 1/2 acres formerly, which I brought into such condition that I got for it nearly £13 more than I paid for the 9 acres I now have, it was then in such poor condition.”

The chairman said he had been induced to attempt the opening of the London butter market to the small farmer’s in the neighbourhood, by the offer of Mr. McKEAN of his co-operation and assistance and by accomplishing this, they had given an alternative to the butter-makers of sending their butter to London when they could not get a fair price at home.

An evening of great enjoyment was passed.

Extracted & transcribed by Teena from the Friday 10 Jan. 1845 edition of the Belfast Newsletter