Category Archives: Natural History

Bog Bursts, Co. Roscommon

A.D. 1831, January.- Bog, near Geevagh, Co. Sligo.
” After a sudden thaw of snow, the bog between Bloomfield and Geevagh gave way; and a black deluge, carrying with it the contents of 100 acres of bog, took the direction of a small stream, and rolled on with the violence of a torrent, sweeping along heath, timber, mud, and stones, and overwhelming many meadows and arable land. On passing through some boggy land, the flood swept out a wide and deep ravine, and a part of the road leading from Bloomfield to St. James’s Well was completely carried away from below the foundation for the breadth of 200 yards.”

Ref: Lyell, Principles of Geology’ 10th ed., vol. ii., p. 504

The Great Rush of Birds on the Night of March 29th-30th, 1911

THE GREAT RUSH OF BIRDS ON THE NIGHT OF MARCH 29TH-30TH, AS OBSERVED IN IRELAND.
By R. M. Barrington, M.A.
Published in the Irish Naturalist Vol. XX, June 1911

On the night of March 29th, a great rush of birds was observed in several towns of S. E. Ireland, and also at some light-stations long the coast from Balbriggan to the Old Head of Kinsale.

Newspapers for week or more afterwards, contained accounts of extraordinary flights, and probably the most convenient method of illustrating what occurred, is to give extracts from private letters lent chiefly by my friend Mr. R. J. Ussher, and reports from newspaper correspondents.

I interviewed the light-keepers at Balbriggan and Rockabill, and some of the seamen who were on board the lightships at Blackwater Bank, Lucifer Shoals, and Coningbeg.

Information was also received from Howth Bailey, the Tuskar, South Arklow light-ship, Barrels light-ship, Hook Tower, and the Old Head of Kinsale.

As regards the towns, most birds appear to have been noticed at New Ross, Waterford, Carlow, Kilkenny, Carrick-on-Suir, and Dungarvan. Smaller numbers were observed at Clonmel, Bagenalstown, Lismore, Enniscorthy, Gorey, Greystones and Bray.

Mr. C. B. Moffatt states that it was a “tremendous night of Curlew cries over Dublin”

Many species were reported, but Starlings predominated largely ; then Curlew, Thrushes, Blackbirds and Redwings ; and after these, a heterogeneous collection of other species.

The relative numbers of each, as well as the variety, must be inferred generally from the reports of correspondents, few of whom were trained observers.

The specimens sent by the light-keepers are, of course, the best evidence. A list of these, received as to May 20th is given hereafter.

On the night in question, an exceptional number of bids was seen at the following light-stations : – Balbriggan, Rockabill, Howth Bailey, Arklow S light-ship, Blackwater Bank, Lucifer Shoals, Tuskar, Coningbeg, Hook Tower and Old Head of Kinsale, extending along a coast line of 200 miles.

The following are extracts from letters etc.

WATERFORD:- Mr. Peter Griffin writing on March 30th says:- “Last night, between ten and twelve, an extremely large number of birds was seen hovering round the city. The telegraph wires along the quay were full. Where there was any light in a window they were dashing against it. A post office official opened a window and a number of birds flew in. A postman when cycling across the bridge said that the birds were so numerous that he was struck by them several times. Between four and five in the morning they appeared like a cloud which covered several miles, and ‘flew in a N.E. direction’. Many remained about the city. Hundreds were found dead, especially along the quay. Those that were caught could only fly two or three feet. The majority were Starlings, but many were like the Thrush and some Blackbirds. An Oyster-catcher was captured.

Another WATERFORD correspondent, Mr. Friel says “Last night, March 29th-30th, about ten o’clock the Curlew were passing over the town and crying far more than usual. While the men were working at the new bridge with flare lamps many hundreds of Starlings came fluttering round. The birds were in the thousands on the tarpaulins along the quay, opposite the post-office. In addition to Starlings I hear one Field-fare was found.”

NEW ROSS:- A correspondent of the Freeman’s Journal writing on March 30th says:- “About ten o’clock last night a swarm of Starlings, numbering several thousands descended no the town, filling the streets, houses, and yards.”

“Numbers got into the houses, and broke the windows in their flutterings, whilst vast numbers dropped on the river Barrow, beside the gas-lights, and were drowned.”

A correspondent of the Daily Express at New Ross stated that:-“The strange visitation of Starlings, which created such interest, continued, but in smaller numbers till April 2nd, and on the night of which several were killed.”

CARLOW:- A correspondent of the Freeman’s Journal at Carlow reported that :-“On the night of March 29th the sky was almost obscured by vast numbers of Curlew and Starling, which were reinforced by Wild Duck, Blackbirds, Thrushes and Woodquests. The streets were practically littered in the morning with the bodies of dead birds.” He also reports that a great multitude of Starlings was observed over Bagenalstown, which is also on the river Barrow, bout twelve miles further south, and that on the following day, a man ploughing in a field near the town, reported that Starlings were continually alighting on the plough and the horses.

Mr. Haughton of Carlow, writes :- “I noticed the following birds dead on the morning of the 30th, Starlings and Redwings, the former in large numbers and on Brambling, a rare visitor. About fifty birds were found on my premises. For a day or two afterwards I noticed large flocks of Seagulls and other birds about the locality. The migration evidently came from the S.W. judging by the position in which the dead birds were found. There were a few Wild Duck and other birds among them but I think they joined the flocks s they passed over the estuary. Some accounts of the flight are much exaggerated.”

KILKENNY. – An Irish Times correspondent writes on March 30th :- “t may interest some of your readers to know that during last night hundreds of birds of various kinds, Curlew, Sparrow, Thrush, Blackbird, etc., fell dead. The roads leading to Kilkenny and the market place in the city, were the places where they were most noticed, but even the surrounding fields had their quota.”

CARRICK-ON-SUIR. – Mr. J. Ernest Grubb, writing on March 30th says : – The bird migration has been most extraordinary here. Starlings, Cormorants, Herons, Curlew, Thrushes, Blackbirds, Snipe, Redwing and Gulls. A man who lives on the bank of the Suir told me that at about eleven or twelve o’clock he was awakened by the screaming of birds, and dressed and went out, and in the light o a gas-lamp saw eight or nine Herons, two dozen Gulls and Water-rails, and five or six Cormorants and Curlew walking up and down the flat bank at the edge of the river, screaming piteously. They were all gone in the morning.

Mr. J. H. Power of Carrick-on-Suir says: – “About eleven o’clock last night flocks of birds began tumbling into the streets, some dead, and others not able to fly. I saw heaps f them to-day dead and all in good condition. One man told me he got twelve on the hearth in the morning which had tumbled down the chimney. The whole bird creation was astir and the people of the town were kept awake by the shriek of the Curlew, Duck and Snipe hovering over the town. The birds were going N.E. Starlings and Redwings were in masses ; Thrushes, Blackbirds, Skylarks, Tit-larks, Snipe and an Owl were also picked up dead. The night was very dark. I distinguished the Redwing by the streaks about the head and brick colour under the wings. The Song Thrush has buff under the wing. For some days after Starlings and Redwings were feeding in the fields and quite weak.” The wing of a Redwing was forwarded.

DUNGARVAN – Mr. R. J. Brennan says :- “The night of the 29th of March was dark and calm until 10.30. Suddenly, before eleven o’clock, light rain and fog began and flocks of Starlings were observed in the Square. They flew wildly about, as if terrified and bewildered, striking against windows, walls and gas-lamps. On the morning of the 30th several dead birds were found. The night watchman states that he saw the birds departing in a N.E. direction.”

Another Dungarvan correspondent says :- “I looked towards one of the gas-lamps at eleven p.m. and the whole air seemed one mass of small birds.

LISMORE:- Mr. Fanning writes :- “On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the last three days of March, there was observable a state of excitement amongst birds, and particularly Starlings. On these nights, Curlew were heard calling continuously over the town of Lismore. On Saturday night April 1st, the air was full of them. The nights were dark and foggy, and the birds kept hovering over towns where gas-lamps were lighted. These are no gas-lights a Cappoquin, and no birds were observed there.

CLONMEL – Mr. Burns of the ‘Clonmel Chronicle’ reports: – “On the morning of Mach 30th a number of Starlings were found dead near St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church as if they had dashed themselves in the darkness against the spire.

The above extracts from letters and newspapers illustrate what happened over several inland towns. The bird-rush of March 29th was also observed at Enniscorthy, Gorey, Greystones and Bray : but the numbers at the last three named towns were very small.

In order to show the number passing up the Channel the following extract from the ‘Irish Times’ of April 1st is of interest, as giving the experience of the captain of a steamer plying between Liverpool and Drogheda.

Captain Kirwan who was in command of the L & Y Rly. Company’s steamer, “Colleen Bawn” is reported to have said that : – “On the night of the 29th March about eleven o’clock, after crossing Drogheda bar, millions of birds joined the boat. Amongst them were a number of Curlews.

“On the following night, coming from Liverpool, about twelve o’clock, large numbers of birds came on board and flew all around the steamer. They appeared very tired as if they had traveled a long distance and did not know where to alight in the darkness. About three a.m. an enormous mass hovered round and perched on every part of the vessel, including the funnel. At five thirty a.m. when thirty miles from the Irish coast, the birds flew in all directions from the steamer as if they were looking for land.”

Turning now to the light-stations on the coast, the most northerly from which any special number of birds was reported is Balbriggan.

Mr. E. A. Kennedy, light-keeper, at an interview said :-“A rush of Starlings commenced at eleven p.m. on March 29th , and continued until four a.m. the next morning. Fifteen were picked up dead.” This is a small mainland lighthouse at the end of a pier. Mr. Kennedy states that this was the only occasion during his six years residence that any birds were killed.

ROCKABILL: – Mr. Henry T. Murphy, light-keeper when interviewed said “The night of March 29th was dark ; wind E.S.E light, with drizzling rain, and that about 150 birds were killed, chiefly Starlings, one Woodcock and one Manx Shearwater, and a large number of Blackbirds and several Thrushes. Several Water-rail and Curlew were also observed flying about.

On March 31st I received from this station ;- Four Woodcocks, one Snipe, one Meadow-Pipit, two Water-rail, one Dunlin ; all said to have been killed on the night of the 30th. Possibly they struck on the previous night and were not found till the day after. Rockabill lighthouse is four miles from shore.

HOWTH BAILEY LIGHTHOUSE:- No report has yet reached me from the light-keeper, but the Secretary of the Irish Lights Board writes that the fog-siren was choked with dead birds on the night of April 1st.

No account has yet been received from three lightships all situated about ten miles from shore along the Dublin and Wicklow coasts, namely the Kish, the Codlings and North Arklow.

SOUTH ARKLOW:- Ten miles from the north Wexford coast. Mr. J. J. Reilly, light-keeper writes:-“March 20th, Blackbirds, Starling and Thrushes in large numbers about the ship all night ; from eight p.m. on 29th to four a.m. some hundreds striking, forty killed. Wind light, N.E., hazy. March 31st, Blackbirds, Starling, Thrushes in large numbers about ship all night until six a.m. Wind light, N.E., hazy. Birds going N. N.W., 80 killed striking. The ship was covered with Starling and Blackbirds on the morning of the 31st, and on April 1st Starlings in numbers rested on the ship from eight a.m. to four p.m., and then flew N.W.” Leg and wing of Water-rail received.

A “Chaffinch and Goldfinch” also seen. Two Goldfinches (leg and wing of one received) were killed striking on April 2nd and in this connection it….(Sorry! Missing end of page)

BLACKWATER BANK Lightship, ten miles from Wexford, send:- One Starling and one Thrush, killed on the 29th, also Water-rail and Wheatear, the former of which died exhausted, and the latter struck the mast.

Patrick Cogley, A.B., said in an interview that he came on the watch at four a.m. on the 30th, and “never saw so many birds at any night for thirteen years, ten to twenty Starlings were found killed, besides what fell overboard. Thrushes and Curlew were about the light, and two Wheatears, a Robin and a few Linnets.”

LUCIFER SHOALS Lightship:- This station has not yet forwarded any specimens, but Patrick Magrath, A.B., who was on board on March 29th, says that the birds began to strike at 9 p.m. Wind light E., hazy. He was on duty till 4 a.m., and birds were coming the whole time. About 60 Starlings were killed, besides those which fell overboard, also two Blackbirds, a Thrush and a few Skylarks.

TUSKAR Lighthouse:- Seven miles from shore. This is a famous lighthouse off the extreme S.E. corner of Co. Wexford. Mr. A. O’Leary, the keeper, writes:_ “There was an enormous lot of Starlings on the night of March 30th ; the rock and balcony were completely covered with them and several hundreds were killed. There was also a lot of Thrushes and Blackbirds.” Mr. O’Leary forwarded a Redwing, Wheatear, 2 Blackbirds, Water-rail, 1 Black Red-start, and a Meadow-Pipit.

BARRELS Lightship:- Turning the corner of the south coast of Wexford, we come to this station, ten miles from the shore, and here, the testimony of Mr. Grant, the light-keeper is most remarkable ; for he states that “no birds were killed during the month of March, and no unusual flights were noticed.” This can only be accounted for by the fact that the sky must have been perfectly clear close to the ship on the night of March 29th.

CONINGBEG Lightship: – This is about fifteen miles west of the “Barrels,” and ten miles from shore. Matthew Murphy, siren man who was on the watch from 8 p.m. and (was interviewed on March 30th) said – that in (missing last line here!! – sorry again). Forwarded was a Water-rail killed striking on March 29th.

HOOK TOWER: – A light at the extreme end of a long narrow promontory extending in a S.W direction at the mouth of Waterford Harbour. Mr. J. Devaney, the assistant keeper, writes, on March 30th. :- “I am forwarding a bird (Water-rail received) which struck the lantern this morning. Thousands of Starlings, Blackbirds, Thrushes and Manx Shearwaters were around the lantern all night and hundreds were killed. It was very dark and gloomy, and wind N.E.”

OLD HEAD OF KINSALE:- After Hook Tower there are no south coast lighthouse records until we reach this mainland lighthouse, from which Mr. Martin Kennedy, the light-keeper writes on March 30th, thus :- “I am posting today 6 Robins, 2 skylarks, 2 Wheatears (all received). They were killed at the lantern between 10 and 11.30 p.m. last night. It is most remarkable about the 6 Robins ; I only remember getting one before – at Rockabill. 136 Starlings were found killed or dying, this morning after the night, also 2 Shearwaters.” On April 2nd Mr. Kennedy forwarded a wheatear, Black Redstart, Stonechat, and Meadow Pipit, killed the previous night between 9 p.m. and midnight. He reports that the lantern and balcony were covered with hundreds of Starlings but not one was killed.

If the map of Ireland be consulted, it will be found that the distance from Balbriggan to the Old Head of Kinsale is about 180 miles, measured across country in a direct line ; and that, with the exception of 6 town situated along the Rivers Suir, Barrow and Nore, namely Waterford, Carrick-on-Suir, New Ross, Bagenalstown, Carlow and Kilkenny, no ‘great’ flight of birds was observed anywhere inland. Those seen at Lismore, Clonmel, Enniscorthy, and Gorey were comparatively few.

Some persons consider that the birds were departing from instead of arriving in Ireland. I think this view untenable, for, if one thing more than another stands out perfectly clear, it is that the great bulk of the birds which are observed at light-stations are always making ‘for’ not ‘from’ the land. This conclusion is arrived at from thousands of records collected during thirty years as to the direction of flight. (see – “”The Migration of Birds as observed at Light-houses and Light-ships.” London & Dublin, 1910). The paucity of specimens sent at the season of departure corroborates this. Why would the Jack Snipe, Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper strike on the South coast of Ireland in Spring? For they cannot be ‘southward’ bound! Then, the Snow Bunting and the Brambling, which do not breed in Ireland are killed striking long after those which have wintered with us have left. But the most convincing reason of all is the commonsense argument, why should birds select a misty night with fog for leaving Ireland? And why should they be found ‘exhausted’ at light-houses and light-ships, on shore, or a few miles from shore?

Birds, like human beings, do not start on a journey under unfavourable conditions, if it can be avoided. On the contrary, they refrain from doing so, but they cannot tell, any more than we can, the meteorological conditions that they are likely to meet with after a flight of 60 or 100 miles across the sea.

If the birds were leaving Ireland on March 29th, why is it they were not seen in Cork, Limerick, Dundalk or Belfast? Why were the Starlings in these neighbourhoods quiescent?

A correspondent on the River Lee writes :- “No rush of birds was observed in this locality.” Mr. R. W. Longfield says :- “No abnormal flight of birds was observed in the Bandon River or thereabouts.” Mr. Kelly, postmaster of Youghal says :-“No one has observed an inrush of birds on March 29th.”

Surely portion of the Shannon valley would have been the natural route of Starlings from West of Ireland And yet from Carrick-on-Shannon to Limerick, there is no report of any migration. Wherever the direction of flight is given it is totally at variance with the suggestion that the birds were ‘departing’.

Mr. Griffin says, between 4 and 5 in the morning they appeared like a cloud, which covered several miles, and flew in a N. E. direction from Waterford.

Mr. Haughton of Carlow, states that the birds evidently came from the S.W., judging from the position in which the dead bodies were found. If that be so, then they were clearly flying N.E.

Mr. Power, of Carrick-on-Suir says the birds were going N.E. The night watchman at Dungarvan says that they departed in a N.E. direction. The light-keeper at South Arklow says the birds were going N.N.W. on the 31st.

It would be explicable if such an enormous mass of birds should collect long the S. and S.E. coasts, and then retrace their flight in a N.E. direction, if ‘leaving’ Ireland.

If the birds were arriving, their distribution is easily accounted for. After crossing the mouth of the Channel, the coast of Wexford was first reached and here the stream divided itself into two branches, one going up to the east coast, and the other along the south coast. Those which pursued the latter course soon arrived at the wide entrance to Waterford Harbour, up which many of them flew, and, following the line of least resistance traveled along the valley of the Suir, to Waterford, Carrick, and Clonmel ; others followed the Barrow, a tributary of the Suir, and arrived at New Ross, Bagenalstown, and Carlow. Others followed the course of the Nore, which joins the Barrow above New Ross, and reached Kilkenny. Those which overshot Waterford Harbour kept the coast-line until they reached Dungarvan Bay, and a few went up the Blackwater valley to Lismore.

The Old Head of Kinsale birds were probably a bewildered off-shoot of the main body, which became detached in mid-channel, and took a westerly direction. The Enniscorthy birds came up the Slaney, and the few seen at Gorey probably did like-wise.

The flocks seen ten mils from shore at Lucifer Shoals, Blackwater Bank, South Arklow, and along the coast at Balbriggan, came up-channel without touching Wexford at all.

But what is the reason that this great rush of birds took such a western route, and collected in such numbers? The solution to the problem is to be found in what may be called a “combination of co-incidences.” The “Wonderful Battell of the Birds,” described in the Cork Archaeological Journal as having taken place between the 12th and 14th of October 1621, may have been due to an analogous cause.

It is a well known ornithological axiom that birds, in the Northern Hemisphere, usually breed in the most northerly portion of their range. Immense numbers annually towards the end of March move northwards through Spain and France to their breeding haunts. This year, for weeks previous to the 29th of that month, cold northerly or easterly winds prevailed over France and the British Isles, and birds though desirous to migrate were held back by the weather, and many species which would otherwise have traveled separately, collected in the South of Europe like passengers at a railway station, anxious to proceed upon their journey, but unable to do so owing to a breakdown on the line.

To this cause, I attribute the ‘extraordinary’ number of birds, and as the temperature was much milder on the west coast of France and in Brittany than in central France, they took a more westerly course than usual, unwilling to face the bitter N.E. winds.

The following tables compiled from the daily weather charts show the direction of the wind at the mouth of the Channel, and the fluctuations of temperature over central France for ten days previous to the 29th March.

In Table I. it will be seen that the wind was almost continuously N. or E., but that it suddenly changed to the S. at Valentia, Pembroke and the Scilly Islands on the morning of the 29th ; and Table II. shows that the aggregate rise of temperature at ten French stations on that day amounted to 73 degrees, or an average of over 7 degrees at each station. This favourable change, coupled with a southerly wind in the mouth of the Channel, so to speak, liberated the birds, and the wind still continued N.E. and E. over England, they decided to take a longer and more exhausting course than usual and travel towards Ireland and then turn N.E.

Unfortunately for the birds, the change took place ‘exactly’ on the last day of the last quarter of the moon, the very worst night, as far as darkness is concerned, that could have happened for the birds. (See “The effect of the Moon’s phases on the number of birds killed striking,” page 7 of my “Migration of Birds”).

Having crossed the Channel a bank of fog and drizzling rain was met with near the Irish coast, formed by the condensation of the moisture in the warm south wind when it met the Arctic current, which had not yet ceased over England.

The weary travelers, believing that their journey was almost concluded and baffled or bewildered by the fog or mist which probably extended twenty or thirty miles from the Irish coast, were attracted by the lighthouse lanterns, and subsequently the glare of the town lamps.

To Mr. C. B. Moffat I am indebted for various suggestions when writing this paper.

Whaling in Ireland

“Stranded whales were, of course, very important in medieval times. In July, 1295, for example, there is on record the pleadings of a case in County Kerry in which Robert de Clohulle was charged with having appropriated a whale to his own use “in prejudice of the Crown” (Cal. Just. Rolls Ire., 1295-1303, pp 29, 54-5). In reply Robert refuted the charge stating that by ancient custom in Ireland “such great whales are reported wreck of the sea”, a right which his father had before him. Later the same year, in September 1295, William Macronan is reported as having made a fine for “a certain great whale” of two cows and 10 shillings, showing the importance of a stranded whale. (same ref).

Many years later, in 1631, the charter of the City of Waterford gave to the Mayor “inter alia”, “the fishery of salmon and other fish of every kind, although hitherto called royal (whales and sturgeons excepted)” (cal. Pat. Rolls. Chas. I, 583-584). In other words whales and sturgeons were reserved to the Crown because of their importance. In 1623 one of the advantages of Ireland wassaid to be the “royalties” of whale and sturgeon often taken. (Advertisements for Ireland, ed. George O’Brien, Dublin, 1923, 16).

In medieval times ships were not really capable of being used for whaling but stranded whales were important because they provided oil for lighting and many other purposes, at a time when oils and fats could only be obtained from a limited number of animal resources. A single whale would also provide, “inter alia”, a large amount of oil at on and the same time. It is, therefore, not surprising that when whales came ashore, particularly in arms of the sea, fishermen did everything possible to slaughter the creatures or recover the oil (blubber) from those stranded and dead. We know that the proprietors of many estates had the rights of whales washed ashore and cherished these rights greatly. Tuckey (F. H. Tuckey, ‘The county and city of Cork Remembrances, Cork, 1837, 236) tells us that a whale above 40 feet in length which swam two miles up the Bandon River above Kinsale was pursued by the fishermen, who struck it several times with harpoons to no effect, as it succeeded in getting out of the harbour.” Even as late as November 1965, a school of pilot whales, which came with the rising tide into the narrow part of Brandon Bay in County Kerry, was eventually cut up and (Irish Nat J., xv, 163-166)sold to a firm interested, ‘inter alia’, in mink farming.

Active hunting or fishing for whales has seldom been carried out in Irish waters. In the year 1736 a Lieutenant Samuel Chaplain or Chaplin quartered at Gibralter who had been formerly employed in the Greenland whale fishery was informed by a Captain Nesbit, a colleague that whales abounded in the Spring of each year off the north-west coast of Ireland, particularly i the Counties Sligo and Donegal (U.J.A., xiv (1908), 16-18). Chaplain resigned his commission and went to Ireland with a view to fishing for whales. He petitioned the Irish House of Commons in November 1737 for aid to carry on whale fishing (I.H.C., iv, 242). In his petition Chaplain stated he had established a settlement on St. John’s Point on Donegal Bay and he had struck several whales but ‘only got the benefit of one’. He had cured the bone and had obtained a quantity of oil. In support of his petition Chaplain suggested that the whale fishery would be “of great advantage to the nation by establishing a commodity of bone and oil for exportation as well as the consumption of this nation and instructing a great number of able sailors, who may be employed in other seasons to fish for pilchards, cod, ling and herrings in the same vessels”. The matter was referred to a Committee which recommended on 14 December 1737 that Chaplain deserved encouragement and that it would be beneficial to give premiums on oil and fins of whales taken on Irish coasts in order to encourage the whale fishery.

Chaplain petitioned Parliament again on 6 November 1739 for assistance (I.H.C., iv, 300). On 10 November 1739, Mr. Henry Hamilton reported for the Committee appointed to consider Chaplain’s petition in favour of the petitioned and recommended a grant of £500(I.H.C., iv, 302 and App cxii-cxix). The actual report of the Committee is interesting in that the actual evidence of some of the persons involved in the fishery is given. A man named Edmund MacGaghan, who had been employed as a batman, stated that he had seen Chaplain strike several whales but only one fish was taken last season, a creature of about 42 feet in length which produced 14 tons of blubber and a large quantity of bone. Evidence was given that Chaplain had employed four boats, each with six men per boat. Samual Bryan stated that he had bought whale bone from Chaplain for which he had paid £20. The bone was well cured and cut and “better than any he had bought from Holland”. Bryan paid £1. 2. 0 per dozen per bone, selling for £1. 10. 0. The House of Commons approved of the Committee’s resolution on 13 November 1739. (I.H.C., iv, 304).

Apparently Chaplain was not particularly successful, only catching two whales in a matter of eight years (U.J.A., xiv (1908), 16-18) ; and seems to have died before he could obtain his grant of £500. It is said that Chaplain’s brother continued the fishery later, also with little success.

The next important attempt at whale fishing was made by Thomas Nesbit of Kilmacrenan, Co. Donegal in association with his brother Andrew, Paul and James Benson and Scheson Irwin. Arthur Young in his well known book on his tour in Ireland (A Tour in Ireland, Dublin, 1780, 251) mentions that Nesbit went to London and purchased a vessel of 140 tons and engaged a number of persons as harpooners. The experience of these people is set out in their petition to the Irish House of Commons on 9 November 1793 (I.H.C., vii, 200). This is worth quoting verbatim as follows:
“That the petitioners having found from long observation that a certain season of the year the sea upon the north west coast of this kingdom abounds with valuable whales, in the year 1759 formed themselves into a company for carrying on a whale fishery upon the said coast under the inspection and management of the petitioner Thomas Nesbitt. That the petitioner Thomas in order to carry their scheme into execution went to London and there purchased a ship and had her fitted up for the purpose and have five boats made of a new construction. That in the spring in the year 1760 harpooners and other experienced persons in fishing for whales, cutting up were put on board said ship with lines, guns, harpoons, lances, casks and every other article fit for carrying on said fishery and said ship so fitted out soon after arriving upon said coast. That the petitioner Thomas having provided a sufficient number of boatmen gave directions to proceed upon the said fishery and great numbers of whales having appeared and frequent opportunities of striking them occurred but either through the ignorance or affected design of those employed, every such opportunity was lost and the petitioners in that year were unsuccessful save in one attempt only made by the petitioner Thomas whereby he killed one whale. That no apparatus for rendering or reducing to oil the blubber or manufacturing the bones of whales being in the kingdom the petitioner Thomas sent the said ship with the blubber and bone of said whale to London whereby he apprehended that some alteration and addition were necessary to be made in and to this said ship.”

The petition then went on to give details of the 1761 season which, however, proved to be unsuccessful, not a single whale being taken. The total expense of the venture up to the end of 1761 was £3,000. In 1762 the company killed three whales, “two of which were large and one a amll one, being young”. Two whales were killed in 1763 but the promoters were greatly discouraged because of the great expense incurred. One of the difficulties the petition to the Commons stressed was the lack of proper facilities to render the blubber in Ireland at that time.

A Committee was appointed to examine the proposal on 9 November 1763 and on 15 November this committee reported that the petitioners had fully proved their case and in view of the calue of the whale fishery to the country recommended a grant of the sum of £2,000 to assist in erecting warehouses, etc. , to enable the petitioners “to extend and carry on the said fishery with effect” (I.H.C., vii, 225).

The Report was adopted by the House by 70 votes to 57 and sent to the Committee of supply which resolved subsequently to make a grant of £1,500 (I.H.C., vii, 235).

Nesbit apparently devised a gun harpoon which was said to be very effective. It is clear, however, that Nesbit’s attempt to establish a whale fishery was unsuccessful, despite the grant of £1,000 which was ultimately given to him (I.H.C., viii, 187). Nesbit was nearly killed during his whaling activities, as recounted by both McParland and Wakefield (James McParland, ‘Statistical Survey of the Co. Donegal’, Dublin, 1802, 73 ; Edward Wakefield, ‘An Account of Ireland,’ London, 1812, ii, 125-6). Apparently it was this accident which resulted in abandonment of the whale fishery.

A Bill was eventually introduced in February 1778 to give encouragement to the whale fishery as carried on from Ireland and was given royal assent on 5 July 1778 (I.H.C., ix, 418, 431, 434, 436, 485-6, 488, 491, 496 and 508), but this was ineffective. The object of this legislation was to provide a subsidy for the operation of the whale fishery from Irish ports and the landing and processing of the blubber, bone, etc., ashore in Ireland. The merchants operating under the name of the Greenland Fishing company of Londonderry petitioned the Parliament on 19 February 1787 for similar assistance to that given to the fishery based further south (I.H.C., xii, 203).

From the end of the 18th century until the early years of this century no active whaling was pursued around Ireland, but in 1908 the Arranmore Whaling Company established a shore factory on the south Iniskea Island (Rep. Sea & inland fish., (1908) vii) and was at work before the Whale Fisheries (Ireland) Act and as a result of its activities 76 whales of 5 species were killed in 1908. A license was issued to a second company, the Blacksod Whaling Company, Ltd., for a station to be erected at Ardelly Point, Co. Mayo. Ardelly Point is situated in Blacksod Bay.

The following year between May and September, 1909 the whaling station on the south Iniskea Island took 100 whales, from which 2,900 barrels of oil, 53 tons of “guano”, 120 tons of bone-meal, 124 tons of cattle food and 14 ½ tons of whale bone were obtained (Rep. Sea & inland fish, (1909), vii). Thirty men were employed on the whalers and 65 men, of whom more than half were Irish, at the factory. The foreigners were mainly Norwegians. Up to this time, apparently two whalers were in use.

In 1910, both the Iniskea and Blacksod stations were operated, three whalers working from the former and two from the latter. Sixty five whales were landed at Iniskea and 55 at Blacksod, the total production being 3,365 barrels of oil, 364 tons of guano manure, 8 tons of whale bone, about 200 tons of cattle food and 100 tons o bone meal (Rep sea & inland fish. (1910), x-xi). About 60 hands were employed at the two factories.

Prior to the opening in 1911 the license held by the Arranmore Whaling Co., was transferred to a new Company of the same name. The earlier company went into liquidation on 22 November, 1912. In 1911 the two companies operated from Iniskea and Blacksod taking 68 and 63 whales, respectively, producing 4,377 barrels of oil, 13 tons of whale bone and 2,716 tons of manure. Between 80 and 90 local hands were employed in the two factories (Rep. Sea and Inland fish.(1911), xxii) . Details of the whales taken at the Blacksod station and the mode of operation of the station were published in the report of the British Associatiojn for the year 1912 (London, 1913, 145-186). Three whalers were operated from Iniskea and two from the Blacksod station.

The Rev. W. Spotswood Green, Chief Inspector of Irish Fisheries, during a visit to the Iniskea station in 1911 took a number of photographs (now preserved in the National Museum Dublin (three of which were reproduced in the Journal).

In the season 1912 two whalers were operated from both stations and between 60 and 70 hands were employed at the factories. Twenty six whales were landed at Iniskea and 34 at Blacksod (Rep. Sea & inland fish. (1912), xxiii). The total production of oil was 2,357 barrels, of whale bone 2 ¾ tons, together with 2,562 bags of manure. The Arranmore Whaling company had labour troubles on Iniskea, which adversely affected output.

Two whalers operated from each station in 1913 and they took 49 and 65 whales from the Iniskea and Blacksod stations respectively. A total of 3,900 barrels of oil were produced, with 4 tons of whale bone and 4,200 bags of manure. Between 60 and 70 local hands were employed at the two factories.

Whale fishing operations were abandoned at the Iniskea station were 1914 as the company discontinued business and went out of existence. The license held by the company was cancelled by the Department. Operations were carried on at Ardelly Point and 89 whales were landed. These produced 3,304 barrels of oil, 226 tons of manure and 184 cwts of whale bone. Thirty-six men were employed at the factory.

Whaling was discontinues on the outbreak of the First World War and was not resumed until 1920 when 125 whales were landed at Ardelly Point, providing 3,995 barrels of oil, 298 tons of manure and about 12 tons of whale bone. One hundred men were employed at the factory from the middle of May to the middle of September. Operations in 1920 were carried out from chartered (hired) vessels, instead of vessels owned by the company as had been the case before the war.

Owing to the poor demand for whale products and oil, some of which had not been sold by June, no whaling was carried out in 1921. Operations were resumed in 1922, but details of the catch are not available. Apparently the company was being financed by Norwegian Bankers. Afterwards the bankers refused to finance these activities.

Whaling was never an important industry for any long duration in Ireland.”

Extract from an article published in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland, v. 98, Pt1, 1968. Article by Arthur E. J. West.

Bog Butter, 1856

Extract from a paper presented to the Irish Natural History Society and later published in the Journal of that Society, on the General use of the potato in Ireland

MONDAY, MAY 26TH, 1856.

JAMES HENTHORN TODD, D.D., PRESIDENT in the Chair.

MR. W. R. WILDE (Sir William Wilde – father of Oscar Wilde) read a Paper on the introduction and, the time of the general use of the Potato in Ireland,- and its various failures since that period; with some notice of the substance called Bog-butter.

Bog Butter: by Sir William Wilde

“In enumerating the food of the Irish, Petty mentioned ‘butter made rancid by keeping in bogs ;’ and in the Irish Hudibras we read of-
Butter to eat with their hog,
Was seven years buried in a bog.’

When I originally read the statement of Petty, I came to the conclusion that he was wrong, and that this bog butter was much older than his time, but I have learned to correct that opinion. Why or wherefore the people put their butter in bogs I cannot tell, but it is a fact that great quantities of this substance have been found in the bogs, and that it has invariably assumed the physical and chemical characters presented by the specimen now before the Academy: It is converted into a hard, yellowish-white substance, like old Stilton cheese, and in taste resembling spermaceti; it is, in fact, changed into the animal substance denominated ‘adipocere’. Two questions arise, at what time the Irish ceased to bury butter, and how long it would take to produce this change in it.

From the’ Mechanics’ Magazine,’ for September, 1824, we learn that this substance, there styled ‘mineral tallow’ was first discovered in Finland in 1736. About the year 1820, a quantity of it, then called ‘mountain tallow,’ was discovered on the borders of Loch Fyne, in Scotland, and was described in the’ Edinburgh Philosophical Journal,’ vol. xi;

In 1817, a mass of this bog butter or tallow, weighing about 23 lbs., was discovered in a bog on the Galtee Mountains. In June, 1826, a tub, containing about 21lbs. weight of this substance, was found in a bog near Ballinasloe; it, was presented to the Royal Dublin Society by Lord Dunlo, and was described by Professor Edmund Davy in the Proceedings of that body. Since then, very many specimens of this substance have been found; we possess three or four very fine samples in the Museum of the Academy; and other collections, both public and private, contain several examples. It is almost always found in wood, either in vessels cut out of a single piece, like large ‘methers’, or in long firkins, of which there is a good example in the Museum. So far as I can gather, the bog butter is always found at a great depth, ten or twelve feet, at least, in old, solid bogs. Whether the vessels were originally buried at that depth; whether they were placed nearer the surface, and in lapse of years sunk; or whether the bogs havegrown over them, are questions I cannot determine.

How many years it would take to produce in tallow, suet, or butter, the remarkable change exhibited by all the specimens which have been discovered, is a question of much interest ; in connexion with which I may state the curious fact lately mentioned to me, that when the common fosses of Paris, into which a great number of bodies had been thrown in 1793, were opened a few years ago, it was found that the substance into which they had been converted was an ‘adipocere’ somewhat resembling this bog butter.

In the’ Edinburgh Philosophical Journal,’ to which I have alluded, will be found the first analysis of this substance that I am aware of. Professor E. Davy made a very careful examination of it in 1826, the results of which are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society for that year ; I understand that a German, named Luck, published another analysis of it about ten years ago; and I have recently received the following communication from Mr. Sullivan, of the Museum of Irish Industry, who has paid much attention to the subject ; –
“I have obtained from every specimen which I examined more or less of all the peculiar oily acids of butter, which renders it more than probable that they were all originally butter. I may, however, observe, that the finding of these would not amount to absolute proof as to the substance being butter, as I have obtained butyric acid by the slow decomposition of flour under water; also from brain and meat, with fatty tissues attached; and we also know that all these acids can be produced by the oxidation of fats generally. One of the reasons which led me to think that they were originally butter is, that scarcely any of the other volatile acids of the series, produced by the oxidation of fats, besides those obtained directly from butter, are usually present in bog butter. I never detected the presence of salt in any of the specimens which I examined, at least not in any quantity to warrant the supposition that if it had been butter it was salted. In connexion with this result, which otherwise would be a great objection to the idea of its having been originally butter, it is well to bear in mind that butter is even now made in Cork and in the town of Antrim without salt.”

Two circumstances may have influenced those who buried this butter : it was done either for the purpose of security, or in order to produce that very change in it which Petty calls rancid. In Classin and Povelson’s ‘Travels in Iceland,’ we read that the peasantry and poor people eat in winter what is called sour butter, which is preserved without salt; and although it becomes in time acid, it may be preserved for more than twenty years. In former times there were public magazines attached to each bishop’s see, in which great quantities of this acid butter were stored up against years of scarcity; but we read, , when the sour butter is too old, it loses in its acidity and weight, dries up, and acquires a rancid taste.

The most remarkable reference to the substance under consideration, and one that serves to throw most light upon the subject, is that contained in Debe’s Description of the Faroe Isles in 1670; it is
there called (according to the English translation) preserved tallow and ‘Rue tallow ‘and was thus treated: the tallow, principally obtained from sheep, was cut in pieces, and allowed to rot awhile; it was then rendered, and cast into large pieces, which ‘they dig and put in moist earth to keep it, it growing the better the longer it is kept, and when it is old and is cut, it tasteth like old cheese. The most able peasants have ever much endeavoured to bring together a great quantity of that tallow, so that a countryman had sometimes in the tallow dike (that is, a place-in the earth where it is kept) above 100 loads, and this hath always been looked upon as the greatest riches of Feroe. For when sheep dye, such tallow is very necessary in the land, the longer it is kept being so much the better; and forreign pyrates having little desire to rob it from them. It may, therefore, not unreasonably be termed a hidden treasure, which rust doth not consume, nor thieves steal away.”

END of paper

NOTE: Since the foregoing was read to the Academy, I have received the following note from Mr. Curry on the subject :-
During my residence in London, in the summer of last year (1855), I fell in with a curious Irish poem of several stanzas, in the handwriting of the author, John O’Neachtan, an Irish scholar, well known in and about Dublin, between l710 and 1750.
The poem gives a vivid and most graphic description of a battle supposed to have been fought at Cross-bride, somewhere about Tallaght, in the county of Dublin, in the year 1740, between the farmer advocates of the potato, which had been nearly annihilated in the preceding year by the great frost, and the market gardeners and others, who gloried in the destruction of the foreign root, and gave a disinterested preference to the growth of the less prolific and more inaccessible edibles of barley, beans, peas, rye, cabbage, &c.
The part of this description which may prove of interest to you is that in which the writer always speaks of the potato as the white Spaniard, ‘Spaineach Geal’, that is, the white or generous-hearted Spaniard; and where he says that they gladdened the people’s hearts from the first day of August till Patrick’s day.

Bog Bursts

Read before the Dublin Natualists Field Club, 9th February, 1897

(The following is a reprint of the description of a bog burst and the damage caused by such a disaster in Co. Kerry in 1896 (including the death of a Donelly family). Other such bursts have occurred in different counties over the years. Brief information on these occurences in other counties can be seen by clicking on the link for that county. The Kerry description, is however, the most detailed and informative. All refs mentioned are as in Dr. Praegers paper. Also, Lewis, 1837 makes reference to a bog movement in Addergoole parish, Co. Mayo he does not mention a year, but it is most likely the Bog of Addergoole, Dunmore movement of 1745 referred to here)

In the early hours of the morning of 28th December, 1896, the Knocknageeha bog, situated at the head, of the Ownacree valley, seven miles N .N .E. of Headford, near Killarney burst, and discharged a fluid mass, which, pouring down the valley of the Ownacree, devastated the surrounding country in its course.

Without loss of time the Royal Dublin Society appointed a committee consisting of Professor W. J. Sollas, Dr. A. F. Dixon, Mr. A D. Delap, and myself, to investigate and to report on the phenomenon. The Committee left Dublin on the afternoon of Friday, January 2nd, and devoted the following three days to the work.

Our report was presented to the Society on 2oth January. This evening I can best bring the subject under your notice by reading extracts from that report, and exhibiting on the screen maps and sections of the place, and photographs taken by Dr. Dixon, adding such comments as maybe necessary for their elucidation.

A dry summer had been followed by a wet autumn, and about nightfall on. December 27th, a heavy downpour of rain set in, accompanied by a south-easterly gale. Somewhere between two and three o’clock the following morning the edge of the bog, which overlooks the Ownacree valley, gave way and liberated a vast flood of peat and water. There was no immediate warning of the catastrophe, and no one witnessed the actual rupture.

Although the outburst was clearly not instantaneous, it evidently proceeded with great rapidity: as is witnessed by the circumstances of a lamentable loss of life. The bog gave way along the line of a turf-cutting from 4 to 10 feet deep, parallel to which, and about 300 yards below it, runs the Kingwilliamstown road. A small stream, coming from the bog, passes under this road. Close by this stream, on the lower side of the road, was situated the house of Cornelius Donelly, Lord Kenmare’s quarry steward; it was of the ordinary type, of one storey, with walls of rubble masonry and a thatched roof; it stood about 12 feet below the level of the road, and at a short distance from it, the intervening space being occupied by a garden. The house was entirely swept away; Cornelius Donelly, his wife, and family of six children all perished; the bodies of some of them, and those: of their live-stock, together with articles of furniture, were carried down the valley, and were found at various points along the course of the flood, a portion of one of the beds being picked up; a few days later, in the Lake of Killarney – fourteen miles away. From the fact that the whole family perished, and that those bodies which were recovered were without clothing, it would appear that the rapidity with which the flood rose was so great as to afford them no chance of escape.

After bursting from the face of the turf-cutting already mentioned, the first obstacle the flood encountered was the road leading to Kingwilliamstown ; it overwhelmed this for a width of a quarter of a mile, and; continued its course to the road to Killarney; a short distance below, pouring, as it passed, a small cataract of mud into the old quarry at the crossroads. The Carraundalkeen, a small streamlet, tributary to the Ownacree, passes under the Killarney road, through a culvert about 8 feet by 5 feet; this was speedily blocked with masses of turf, and the rising flood poured across the road, carrying away the tall hedges on both sides that stood in its course on its eastern side. On both this and the Kingwilliamstown road huge masses of the more coherent upper crust of the bog were left stranded. A short distance further down, on the northern side of the Carraundulkeen valley, is situated a valuable limestone quarry, which the flood filled to a depth of 15 or 20 feet; as it impinged on the lower corner of the entrance, it surged up in a great wave 3 or 4 feet above the highest level within the quarry, which is marked as a horizontal line along the quarry walls. Beyond the quarry it continued down the valley for a straight run of three-quarters of a mile, to enter, almost at right angles, the valley of the Ownacree or Quagmire river. Checked, as it encountered, the opposing side of this valley, the flood rose along its middle line, where its velocity was greatest,8 feet above its sides. A small cottage stands near by, and its floor is 5 feet below the maximum height of the flood. It owes its escape to the fact that it is situated about 100 yards on one side of of the middle line of the flow. After entering the main valley, the flood continued its career for a mile and a half to Annagh Bridge, where the Ownacree meanders through flat bog and meadows. These, and the road which crosses the bridge, were inundated, and the muddy fluid broadened out into a black lake, half a mile in length by 600 yards in breadth. A breach was made in the road close beside the bridge. On the margin of the submerged flat stands the cottage of Jeremiah Lyne; he and his family had a narrow escape. The flood, on its downward course, encountered the back of the cottage, and rose against it 5 feet, sweeping two haycocks, which stood behind the house, round to the gable. The family were awakened by water pouring in. They were unable to unbar the door owing to the pressure of 3 feet of fluid, and escaped by climbing through the window and wading to higher ground.

Below Annagh Bridge, the force of the flood was less felt. At Barraduff Bridge, “Sixmile Bridge” of the Ordnance map, where the Ownacree joins the Beheenagh river, the Ownacree is 20 feet wide, and the flood rose 8 feet; below the junction the stream is 30 to 50feet wide, and the flood rose 6 feet; at Six-mile Bridge it rose to the top of the arches, 10 feet above its normal level ; at the bridge, two miles below Headford, the level of the flood was about 4 feet above the stream; and finally at Flesk Bridge, near the Lake of Killarney; one foot.

The flood attained its maximum height during its first great outburst in the dark hours of Monday morning. At daybreak, the roaring flood of black fluid, bearing on its surface huge masses of the lighter crust of the bog, had already become confined to the central portions of the valley, but still ran cross the road and over the site of Donnelly’s house. The flow, which continued .with constantly diminishing violence for the whole of Monday, was not regular; but intermittent, swelling and diminishing as fresh portions of the bog gave way, and slid down walls into the torrent. Every fresh outburst was accompanied by, loud noises, likened by bystanders to the booming of big guns or the rumbling of thunder. Over the sides of the valley the settlement of the peaty part of the fluid had already taken place, and, as drainage continued, it ceased somewhat in consistency. The disruption of masses of bog continued at intervals down to Friday; January 1st. When we visited the scene on Saturday, January 2nd the flow had lost its torrential character, but a turbid stream, many times increased beyond its usual volume, occupied the river bed. ,”Mr. James Barbour, who visited the place on Saturday, January 8th, reports that one could then have stepped across the stream, so that by this time it must have shrunk to nearly its usual size.

The district in which the bog is situated forms the southern, portion of a high and undulating area of Coal-measures, generally bog-covered, and attaining a height of over 1200 feet, some miles to the north-west; That part of thee bog in which the outburst took place is about 750 feet above the sea.

Mr. Leonard, Lord Kenmare’s agent, states that on visiting the bog at mid-day on Monday, about eight hours after the outburst, its surface for about a mile above the site of the turf-cutting was no longer convex but level.

The flood has left behind it, in the upper portion of the valley, a deposit of peat averaging 3 feet in thickness, here as everywhere contrasted by its black colour with the grass land or other surface on which it rests. Its compact convex margin, like that of outpoured oatmeal porridge, often 2 feet in height, serves equally well to define it; so it was an easy task to determine and map the high-water level of the flood. The surface of the deposit was everywhere broken by great roots and trunks of Scotch Firs, which in their enormous numbers, bore convincing testimony to the evisceration which the bog had undergone. The appearance of this extensive sea of black peat, with its protruding stumps of blackened trees, overlying fertile fields, was a sight melancholy in the extreme.

The presence of so much floating timber in the waters of the flood must have greatly enhanced its destructive power. One of the largest of those trees, a huge stump with roots 12 feet across, was seen lying some distance up the course of a tributary stream, and on top of its overhanging bank, at a distance of two and a half miles from the scene of the outbreak.

The lamentable fate which overtook the Donelly family has already been alluded to. Many farmers suffered serious loss by the tearing up and washing away of their potato-pits, which were situated near the banks of the stream. The filling up of the limestone quarry is a serious inconvenience; for, although the work of clearing out has already commenced, and it will ultimately be worked as before, it must remain useless for some time. No other quarry exists in the neighbourhood, and lime is the only manure in universal demand. The roads can be cleared without much difficulty : the breaches made in them are not serious. The farmers will feel the loss of their land. On most of the holdings the best land was situated along the river banks, and in the upper portions of the valley, this is now covered to a depth of 3 feet with a solid layer of peat.

According to the enquiries made by the police, in the four townlands which occupy the east bank of the river between the scene of the outburst and a point a little below Annagh Bridge, close to 300 acres of land have been buried. The tenants being all small holders, the loss of their best grazing land has ruined them.

Strange and contradictory rumours are prevalent among the peasantry as to whether any symptoms of the approaching catastrophe were noticed. Sergeant King, R.I.C. states positively that he and other officers on patrol heard rumbling noises some days before the occurrence. Further it is certain that some of the peasantry were so alarmed by the sounds, which they attributed to the banshees that the parish priest was sent for to pray with several families.

The evidence as to whether the actual bursting of the bog was accompanied by sounds is conflicting. Some state that they were awakened by a loud roar ; others including Mr. MacSweeney of Quarry Lodge, slept as usual. But, this negative evidence is of little or no value ; for in one instance the flood passed within fifty years of a cottage, breaking down and sweeping away the trees of the adjacent haggard, without arousing the occupants.

Bog-Bursts with special reference to the Recent Disaster in Co. Kerry, Ireland
By R. Lloyd Praeger, B.E.

The Potato, 1856

A paper presented to the Irish Natural History Society and later published in the Journal of that Society.

The Time of the General Use of the Potato in Ireland, and its various failures

MONDAY, MAY 26TH, 1856.
JAMES HENTHORN TODD, D.D., PRESIDENT in the Chair.

MR. W. R. WILDE (Sir William Wilde – father of Oscar Wilde) read a Paper on the introduction and, the time of the general use of the Potato in Ireland,- and its various failures since that period; with some notice of the substance called Bog-butter.

“Some few years ago, having turned my attention to the subject of the ‘Food of the Irish,’ especially in early times, and written some essays upon it in the ‘Dublin University Magazine,’ (see Numbers for January and March, 1854), the potato came, in due course and chronological order, under consideration. Having looked into the authorities which bore upon the subject of the early introduction of the potato into Ireland, I then arrived at the conclusion that it became an article of general food, and consequently, as such, was the means of influencing as far as the mode of producing food, and the constituents and character of that food could be the means of influencing the moral, physical, social, political, and commercial condition of the people about the middle of the seventeenth century. My attention was again called to the subject by the publication of Mr . Macaulay’s ‘History of England,’ in which he mentions the potato as influencing the feelings and character of the people during the period over which his third and fourth volumes extend, He has twice mentioned the potato (vol. iii. p. 158, and vol. iv. p. 110), and in one instance under very peculiar circumstances – at the siege of Limerick. The beleaguered city, having stood out to the last, capitulated, and then a memorable scene took place – a scene well worthy the attention of the painter and the poet, – on each side of the gate stood the generals of the respe6tive armies, with their attendants; out marched the soldiers of the garrison to choose their destiny; – and Mr. Macaulay, in describing this scene, took occasion to state – among the various circumstances that influenced the minds of the men who were then either to expatriate themselves, or to remain under what they considered a foreign yoke – the remembrance of their homes, their potato garden, and their clamp of turf, with other attractions of a like nature, which still sway the Irish peasantry

Recently Dr. John Davy wrote me a letter, in which he questioned this early use of the potato as the general food of the people, on account of the statement in the ‘Great Geographical Dictionary,’ published in 1694, that, ‘in hard times, they (the Irish) lived on water-cresses, roots, mushrooms, shamrocks, oatmeal, milk, and such other slender diet.’ I have again looked into some authorities to see whether the views of Dr. Davy are supported, or those which I myself had expressed in the Dublin periodical alluded to, and in which I stated, that in Munster especially the potato formed the staple food of the Irish about the middle of the seventeenth century. The writer in the ‘Geographical Dictionary’ probably took Spencer and Campion, who wrote more than a century before, as his authorities.

Some difficulty has attended the investigation of this subject, from the circumstance of inquirers not distinguishing between the true potato, ‘Solanum tuberosum’, and the’ sweet potato, ‘Convolvulus batata’, or, as it is sometimes called by old writers, the Spanish potato.

It is generally believed that Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the potato into Ireland. Sir Joseph Banks came to the conclusion when he wrote his Essay (being an attempt to discover the time in which the potato was introduced into the British isles) that it was brought by Raleigh into England, and from England into Ireland about the year 1600. It must have been at least before the year 1602, because the estates of Raleigh then passed into the Boyle family, and his connexion with Ireland ceased.

Clusius, the botanist of Leyden, who wrote in 1586, says the potato was cultivated in Italy prior to that date; and Cuvier denied that Europe derived the potato from Virginia. The researches of Banks also favour this conclusion, and he states that Coccius, in his Chronicle, printed in 1553, mentions potatoes under the term of ‘papas’. Herriott, who accompanied Raleigh’s expedition to Virginia, described them under the name of ‘openawk’. In Irish they are variously styled ‘potatee’, ‘pratea’, or ‘phottie’, mere Hibernicisms of the English word ‘potato.’ Sir Robert Southwell, President of the Royal Society, stated, at one of its meetings in 1693, that potatoes had been introduced into Ireland by his grandfather, who first had them from Sir W. Raleigh.

I would now ask, what had the people to live on in Ireland before Raleigh introduced the potato? While most other nations have had their history transmitted from the days of the hunter and the fisher, clothed in skins, and using weapons either for the chase, their Own preservation, or the production of food, and so rising in the scale of civilization from barbarism to the highest amount of cultivation, in which the arts were made subservient to the food as well as to the ornament and education of man – we find this curious fact, that there is no record of such a state of existence in Ireland. The Irish had mills and ‘pure white wheat,’ and a coexistent state of civilization of which that was but a small portion; because, to raise and to grind corn, and to bake it into bread, was comparatively an advanced state of society. We had in Ireland at that time a social state very different from that alluded to, as being the character of other nations in similar phases of development, and which serves to confirm the idea that we are in all probability descended from a colony previously civilized, which had settled in this country.

The people lived, in early times, upon corn and milk, and also upon the flesh of oxen and swine – the latter is shown by the details of feasts and royal banquets, descriptions of which were favourite themes for the recitals of the early bards. Subsequently sheep appear to have been introduced; goats were likewise domesticated, and the remains of domestic fowl have been discovered in early tumuli – a circumstance which upon a former occasion I brought under the notice of the Academy. Corn, peas, beans, and possibly parsnips, with cabbages and onions, formed the vegetable food of the people, prior to the introduction of the potato.

Gerard, the English herbalist of 1597, is one of the first authors who alludes to the potato, and after him Richard Bradley, F.R.S., in his’ Planting and Gardening,’ published in 1634. At a meetingof the Royal Society, in March, 1662, a letter was read, containing a proposal for preventing famine, by dispersing potatoes throughout all parts of England;- this subject is alluded to in Evelyn’s’ Sylva.’ Threlkeld, the Irish botanist, described the plant in 1726, and says we had it through Thomas Herriott. The late Crofton Croker, in the introductory matter to his ‘Popular Songs of Ireland,’ has given some very interesting references to the early authorities respecting the introduction of the potato into Ireland, and Mr. MacAdam, of Belfast, has likewise written a valuable treatise on the subject in the’ Quarterly Journal of Agriculture,’ for June, 1834-5. ‘That potatoes were ordinary food in the south of Ireland,’ writes Mr. Croker, ‘before the time of the Commonwealth, is shown by “An Account of an Irish Quarter,” prited in 1654, in a volume entitled ” Songs and Poems of Love and. Drollery,” by T.W. The writer and his friend visited Coolfin, in the county of Waterford, the seat of Mr. Poer, where at supper they were treated with codded onions, and in the van –
‘Was a salted tail of salmon,
And in the rear some rank potatoes came on.’

But although sown in gardens as a rarity, and used at supper as a delicacy, we have no authority for believing that the potato had become the general or principal food of the Irish peasantry until the middle of the century. That, however, the cultivation of the plant was making rapid progress, may be learned by reference to Cole’s ‘Adam in Eden, or the Paradise of Plants,’ – published in London in 1657, which says :-“The potatoes which we call Spanish (not the sweet potato), because they were first brought up to us out of Spain, grew originally in the Indies, where they, or at least some of this kind, serve for bread, and have been planted in many of our gardens [in England], where they decay rather than increase; but the soyle of Ireland doth so well agree with them, that they grow there so plentifully that there be whole fieldes overrun with them, as I have been informed by divers souldiers which came from thence.” The soldiers alluded to by Cole were those of the Parliamentary forces engaged in Ireland from 1649 to 1653, during a period when Sir William Petty calculated that 616,000 of the Irish and the English in Ireland died by the sword, famine, and pestilence.

In a paper published in the’ Philosophical Transactions’ in 1672, and believed to have been written by Dr. Beale, concerning a strange frost which occurred in England in that year, we read that – in 1629 or 1630 there was a dearth in England; and ‘much talk there was then that in London that they had a way to knead and ferment boyled turnips, with a small quantity of meal;’ and then he goes on to say, ‘potadoes were a relief to Ireland in their last famine; they yield meat and drink.’ This famine was evidently that alluded to by Petty in the foregoing reference.

From the researches which I have made it would appear that the cultivation of the potato was very irregular throughout the country; some localities, especially in Ulster, having only adopted it generally within the memory of the past generation. M’Skimmin, in his ‘History of Carrickfergus,’ asserts that not more than two generations back potatoes were seldom used after harvest.

In 1663 Mr. Boyle exhibited some specimens to the Royal Society of London, and read before that body a letter from his gardener at Youghal (the cradle of the potato), in which he describes this esculent as ‘very good to pickle for winter salads, and also to preserve. They are to be gathered in September, before the frost doth take them;’ and, after describing the best mode of culture, he continues – ‘I could speak in the praise of the root, what a good and profitable thing it is, and might be to a commonwealth, could it generally be experienced, as the inhabitants of your town can manifest the truth of it .’One would think from this passage that the potato had not then become an article of common food amongst the Irish, beyond the locality where it was first cultivated. Sir William Petty, in his ‘Political Anatomy of Ireland,’ written in 1672, although not published until 1691 , enumerates among the articles of food, , potatoes from August to May, muscles, cockles, and oysters near the sea; eggs, and butter made very rancid by keeping in bogs;’ and in another place he asserts – ‘that six out, of every eight of all the Irish feed chiefly upon milk and potatoes.’

Certainly the present great historian of England has ample authority for the statement that the potato was cultivated in Ireland to such an extent as to influence the character and feelings of the people, so early as 1689; for, in addition to those authorities already referred to, it is stated in Durfey’s ‘Irish Hudibras; , published in the May of that year, and in which the esculent is frequently referred to, that after the arrival of William III., the natives are said to have been prevented enjoying their ‘Banni-clabber [thick milk] and pottados.’ John Dunton, likewise, in his ‘Conversation in Ireland,’ published in 1699, describes the Irish cabin in his day as having behind it ‘the garden, a piece of ground, sometimes of half an acre or an acre, and in this is the turf-stack, their corn, perhaps two or three hundred sheaves of oats, and as much peas; the rest of the ground is full of their dearly-beloved potatoes, and a few cabbages.’ And again, describing the habits of the people generally from Galway to Kilkenny, he says, Bonny-Clabber and Mulahaan, alias sowre milk and choak-cheese, with a dish of potatoes boiled, is their general entertainment;’ also in the ‘keens’ of that day, allusion is made to the ‘pigs and potato garden.’ Moreover, John Haughton, who published his ‘Husbandry and Trade Improved’ in 1699, when describing the growth of the potato in Ireland, says, it has’ thrived very well and to good purpose, for in their succeeding wars, when all the corn above ground was destroyed, this supported them; for the soldiers, unless they had dug up all the ground where they grew, and almost sifted it, could not extirpate them.’

As experience has proved the potato to be one of the most fickle of vegetables cultivated to the same extent, the most likely to suffer from atmospheric vicissitudes, and the most liable to disease-one would think that if it had been cultivated in Ireland to such an extent as to constitute the most material portion of the food of the people, its failures would have been noticed in history, contemporaneously with those other losses of food which have been recorded. It is possible, however, that in the earlier years of its general introduction, this crop was not so liable to disease as in later times.

In 1725, the use of the potato was so general (at least in parts of the country) as to form nearly the whole winter food of the poor (see Primate Boulter’s Letters).

The first great destruction of the potato crop occurred in the winter of 1739-40, and was attributed to the early, very severe, and long-continued frost of that period. There had been a very wet summer and autumn in 1739; and although the frost, no doubt, was one of the chief causes of its destruction, I am inclined to think that the potato failures in 1739, ’40, and’ 41, were not altogether attributable to the Severity of the winters. When the great frost broke out in the November of 1739, and which increased in intensity during the following month, all the potato crop not already used was in the ground, either undug, or in pits with such a loose covering of earth as was penetrable to the frost. It was said that the potato crop was destroyed in one night; and that 300,000 people perished of famine resulting therefrom.

In 1741 the people were cautioned against eating potatoes, which were believed to be diseased, and likely to produce disease in man. (See note at end of this page)

The following list of failures in the potato shows how little reliance can be placed on that esculent as the sole food of a nation :-
1765. A series of unusual wet seasons preceded this year, which was memorable for the quantity of rain which fell in the early part of it, and the excessive drought of summer; potatoes failed; they were scarce and small; as occurred again, under like circumstances, in 1826
In 1770 there was a potato failure, attributed to the curl, or disease in the leaves.
In 1779, Arthur Young informs us that in some of thenorthern counties the people sprinkled their potato land with lime, in order to prevent the black rot.
In 1784 I am led to believe that the intense frost injured the potato. Latterly, people seem to be aware of the deletetrious effects of frost, and denominate the potato so injured ‘spuggaun,’ from its softness.
The year 1795 was one of unusual character, both in Europe and America: the weather here was uncommonly severe, the spring cold and late, the summer suffocatingly hot, damp, and rainy, while south winds were prevalent. There was a disease among vegetables, especially potatoes and cabbages.
In 1800 there was a partial failure of the potato, owing to excessive drought; the disease appeared in the stalks; the harvest generally was bad; great scarcity and distress succeeded. The potato also failed in England, and for some years afterwards the curl injured many of the best varieties there.
1801. A very general potato failure, attributed to obstructed vegetation, while the sets were yet in the ground.
1807. The frost, which set in about November with unusual severity, destroyed nearly one-half of the potato crop.
In 1809 the curl again injured the potatoes, though not to such an extent as to deserve the name of a failure –
1811. The spring and early summer of this year were excessively wet; a partial failure of the potato crop occurred.
1812 some of the early planted potatoes failed.
1816 the spring was unusually backward, the summer and autumn also very late, and the whole year characterized by far more than the average amount of rain; the potato again failed very generally throughout the kingdom. At this time the stalk was the part chiefly affected. The potato crop in England was also especially defective, which shows how widespread and malignant were the peculiar atmospheric influences which characterized that period. The accounts of this epidemic in England state that, early in September, the potatoes were ‘blackened and spoiled; they smell at a distance the same as after a frosty night late in October’- symptoms which indicated a similarity between the epidemic of that period and the one with which we have lately become so familiar.
1817. This was called the year of the malty flour. The potato crop was very deficient; hence, continued scarcity during the ensuing winter.
A great quantity of snow fell in the end of 1820, and extensive inundations followed, which produced remarkable telluric phenomena early in the following year ; for instance, the ‘moving bog.’ (Bog Bursts)
May and June, 1821, were dry, cold, and frosty; but the autumn was one of unusual moisture: the rain accumulated upon the surface of the ground, the rivers and lakes swelled, and the floods spread far and wide over the face of the land, the rain continuing to pour in torrents during November, December, and part of the following January. The potato crop soured and rotted in the ground; and although a sufficiency was obtained in the dry and upland districts to support human life for some months, it was expended early in the ensuing spring. Fortunately, these effects were not general throughout the kingdom, but occupied a district which might be defined by a line drawn from the Bay of Donegal, upon the north side, at the junction of the counties of Sligo and Leitrim, to Youghal Harbour, where the counties of Cork and Waterford border on the south, thus including the whole western seaboard of Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kerry, and Cork; all exposed to the full force of the Atlantic, the influence of which, though mild, is moist.
In 1825 the seasons were mild, yet we read of a partial failure of the potato crop, as may be instanced by the rise in the price of potatoes.
The year 1829 was wet, and the month of August particularly so; the crops were beaten down by the heavy rains and severe storms, and in all the low grounds the water overran the potatoes, and so remained for many weeks; thus a great quantity of the potatoes were lost this year also.
“In 1830 violent storms and heavy rains brought upon the west of Ireland another failure of the potato, with its usual accompaniment of famine and pestilence: but it was principally confined to the coasts of Mayo, Galway, and Donegal. This blight was common to parts of America and to Germany, where it continued for two years.
In 1832, and for several years following in succession, an unmistakable epidemic attacked the potato in spring throughout Ireland, and also extended to other parts of Europe and to America.
In 1833 the potato disease presented not only the appearance of the curl, but likewise attacked the tubers in the pits.
In 1834 the failure was chiefly observed in the early-planted potatoes, but having been discovered in spring; was, to a certain extent, remedied.
Although there was an intermission in 1835, a partial failure of the potato was observed in several parts of Ireland
In 1836, which had been wet, and July and August unusually so; the price of food rose to an almost unparalleled height.
I have not found any account of a special failure of the potato crop in the wet year of 1838, but the inherent ‘constitutional weakness’ of that esculent was observed, and the deterioration in the best kinds formed the theme of public remark at the time.
In 1839 there was an unmistakable failure of that crop, attributed to the incessant rains, and the extensive inundations; in New England, in this year, the black rust’ struck [the potato] universally on the 27th of August.’
The year 1839 was distinguished by an amount of moisture unparalleled, according to modern observations; and part of 1840 was likewise characterized by excessive moisture; although there was less rain than in the previous year, yet it came down at an unpropitious period; the potato crop failed again in Leinster and Munster; and upon both occasions great distress followed. The Scotch islands of Arran and the High-lands are said to have suffered from partial potato failures yearly, from 1839 to 1842 inclusive. In 1840 the potato disease prevailed to such a degree in Germany as to threaten the total extinction of that esculent; and in the following year the crop was extensively affected there with a disease called ‘dry gangrene.’
In 1841 excessive rains occurred in August, causing a partial destruction of crops, especially in the south of Ireland ; the year .vas cold and frosty, and although not specially characterized for its wetness, the number of days upon which rain fell was very great.
In 1842, which was more than usually unfavourable to vegetation, although the harvest generally was good, the potato crop was injured by the inundations.
1843 was more fatal to animal than vegetable life in Ireland; but in other countries, and especially in North America, the potato suffered severely from the dry rot evidently the commencement of that great blight which prevailed so generally during the ensuing five or six years.
In 1844, the severity of the seasons again acting prejudicially upon vegetable life, there was a partial failure of the potato, and destitution again followed in its wake. The failures were noted early in spring, shortly after the seed was planted; and even in June, the first symptoms of that vegetable pestilence, which laid the foundation of the late misery, appeared. Although the crop was reported generally a good one, acute observers remarked what was then termed the degeneracy of the tubers, and prognosticated that the future crop would either fail entirely when any additional predisposing causes ensued, or would send up a puny and diseased stalk. In America, also, although the weather was dry, the potato crop was defective, having suffered from blight ; symptoms of the disease likewise appeared, late in the autumn of this year, in England, especially in Kent and Devonshire.
1845. General potato failure. The disease, which had already manifested itself in North America, first appeared generally in Great Britain and Ireland late in the autumn of this, year; it also extended throughout Scotland, and was very destructive in Holland, Belgium, France, and Germany.
1846. Complete and general potato failure throughout all Ireland.
1847. Very extensive potato failure. Turnips and other green crops were also injured. There was a failure in the beans similar to that in the potato.
1848. Extensive potato failure. At the end of July and beginning of August the usual blight was again reported, but not so general as in 1846.
1849. Potato failures reported from various parts of the country.
1850. The potato blight appeared in some localities, but to a partial extent only.
1851. Slight and partial potato failure.
Partial and localized failures were reported during the summers and autumns of 1852, 1853, and 1854.

Thus we find that partially in 1845, almost entirely in 1846, very extensively in 1847, and nearly as much so in 1848, the potato, as a crop, failed; and as the disease rose, so it sunk, for in 1849 and 1850, potato failures, although not general, were both intense and widely extended. Like the invasion of other great epidemics affecting man or animals, the violence of which approaches a culminating point and then abates, so the late potato disease slowly and insidiously progressed, until it reached its acme, during 1846, 1847 ,1848, then stood still, and gradually, year by year, gave way, until the severe frost of 1855 appeared to have so far altered the conditions of the atmosphere, that this esculent again assumed a healthy character, and regained its natural flavour.

Even yet we read that, in the Cahirciveen Union, ‘last season, there was a more extensive and destructive failure of the potato crop than was experienced there for the previous seven years; and the consequence was that, from the 1st of August up to the present date, no less than £29,000 worth of Indian corn and meal was landed on Cahirciveen quay for home consumption’ – Kerry Evening Post. This blight was, however, very local.”

The Disappearance of the Fox From Co. Antrim

Published in the journal ‘The Irish Naturalist’ in 1900, by Robert Patterson, F.Z.S.

By the kindness of the Earl of Antrim I have been permitted to examine an old “” Court Leet “” Book for the Manor of Glenarm, and I have been much struck by the evidence therein of the great numbers of Foxes that formerly existed in Co. Antrim. Thinking that the information might be of interest to readers of the Irish Naturalist, I have been at some pains to decipher the faded-and often nearly illegible-writing, and now give a summary of the results.

The “Manor of Glenarm” extended from the town of Larne to Glendun River – practically what is known now as the Baronies of Upper and Lower Glenarm – a narrow strip on the extreme east of Co. Antrim, about 22 miles long by about 6 miles average breadth. The Courts were held twice a year, in spring and autumn, and the records in this volume begin in 1765 and end in 1812. Passing over entries of purely antiquarian and ornithological interest, we come upon innumerable records such as the following :- 17th day of November, 1765.

“We psent the Sum of one pound four shills to be Levyed off the inhabitants of the parish of Ardilenish and paid to Daniel McVicar for killing twelve foxes of prey.

“We psent the Sum of one pound twelve shills to be Levyed off the inhabitants of parish of Laid and paid to Daniel Mc Vicar for killing sixteen foxes of prey.

“We psent the Sum of two Shillings to be Levyed off the inhabitants of the parish of Carncastle and paid to Thomas Palmer for killing one old fox.”

Thus two shillings a head was the reward, whether the animal was a fox of prey ,”or merely an “old fox””.

The following is the number of Foxes “”presented”” and paid for in the different years ;-
1765 – 42 Foxes.
1766 – 51 Foxes.
1767 – 46 Foxes.
1768 – 57 Foxes.
1769 – 52 Foxes.
1770 -70 Foxes.
1771 – 51 Foxes.
1772 – 29 Foxes.
1773 – 67 Foxes.
1774, ..53 Foxes.
1775, ..46 Foxes.
1776, ..4 Foxes.
1777) ..54 Foxes.
1778, ..22 Foxes.
1779, ..76 Foxes.
1780 – 32 Foxes.
1781 – 26 Foxes.

“”1st day of May, 1782. We the Grand Jury of the Barony of Glenarmare determined for the future not to allow any money for killing foxes, as they are paid for at the Assizes, the Bailiffs are ordered to let this our Resolution be known to the Country.””
“”14th day of May, 1783. As wee understant that the Grand Jurey at last Assises would not pay for anny Foxes, now the Jurey of Glenarm means to Continue the Premium as formerly and that the Bailifs should inform the Country of the same.””
1783, ..15 Foxes.
1784, ..30 Foxes.
1785, ..43 Foxes.
1786, ..34 Foxes.
1787, ..34 Foxes.
1788, ..7 Foxes.

The sudden drop in numbers here seems to have been caused by a misunderstanding as to the responsibility for payment, for on 2nd May, 1792, we find the following ;-
“”Whereas several people have lately been disappointed at the Assizes in not getting any thing for Killing Foxes- Resolved by the Grand Jury now present, That all persons Killing Foxes in this Barony in future, on Presenting them at the Courts Leet as usual, will be paid an English Half Crown for each.””
This seems to have had the desired effect, for at the next Court, only six months later, we find 57 Foxes were paid for!
1793, ..52 Foxes.
1794, ..70 Foxes.
After paying £8 15 shillings for Foxes in one year, the Grand Jury must have thought the amount too large, for at the same Court, held on 12th November, 1794, we read: “”We agree only to Pay the sum of two shillings and two pence for Each fox and to be levied e Parrishes they are killed in.””

The people resented this reduction by only producing 7 Foxes in 1795
1796 – 36 Foxes
1797 – 25 Foxes
1798 – 21 Foxes
1799 – 8 Foxes
1800 – 30 Foxes
1801 – 31 Foxes
1802 – 20 Foxes
1803 – 33 Foxes
1805 – 14 Foxes
1806 – 30 Foxes
1807 – 13 Foxes
1808 – 5 Foxes
1810 – 20 Foxes
1811 – 26 Foxes
1812 – 13 Foxes

Thus in 47 years we get the enormous total of 1,462 Foxes produced at the Court Leets for this small portion of Co. Antrim only, for which the ‘Manor of Glenarm’ paid the sum of £159 4 shillings and 6 pence.
Coming to more recent years, Thompson in his ‘Natural History of Ireland’ vol. 4, page 12 says: “”The fox is still found in suitable localities throughout the island, whenever it can remain in spite of man.”” But he does not mention any occurrences in Co. Antrim, although he records the killing of 400 Foxes in Co. Down between 1827 and 1851.
The B.N.F.C. “”Guide to Belfast”” published in 1874, says Foxes “”seem to be rapidly decreasing before the gamekeeper’s gun and the shepherd’s trap.””

Lord Antrim informs me that the only Fox he ever heard of in the two Baronies was killed in his deer park about the year 1870. It was running with a rabbit trap on one of its legs, and a wood-cutter killed it with a stick. The skin was preserved. Lord Antrim is convinced there is not now a single Fox in the two Baronies, nor has there been any since the 1870 capture. Even this one is supposed to have been ‘turned out’ by the late Mr. Chaine, for hunting purposes. Mr. Sheals, the well-known Belfast taxidermist, informs me he cannot remember having received any Foxes from Co. Antrim.

Finally, in the whole of Ulster there is not one pack of Fox-hounds, although there are two packs of Harriers, to satisfy the hunting proclivities of the Northern gentry, who would doubtless hunt Foxes if there were any Foxes to hunt.

Robert Patterson, Malone Park, Belfast. 1900.

The Real Irish Shamrock, Imagery

Trifolium repens L.

White clover, Dutch clover.
Fabáceae (Papilionáceae) – Pea family.

Leaves: Trifoliate and long-stalked; leaflets very narrow oval to oval, very finely toothed, up to 4 cm long, rounded or somewhat incised, smooth and sometimes with a white mark in the middle.

Inflorescense: Racemose heads 15-20 mm across with many flowers.

Flowers: With distinct stems ; 5 fused sepals, covered thickly with hairs, lightly coloured in the lower part and mid to dark green at the long teeth, often with a reddish overlay ; calyx tube has gren veins ; 5 petals, white to pale reddish, 6-12 mm long, fused to form two narrow wings, a keel and a standard swelling outwards a little ; 10 stamens, superior ovary 2 carpels.

Fruits: Pods

Perrennials with creeping stems rooting at the nodes; flowering until September.

Trifolium pratense L.

Red Clover
Fabáceae (Papilionáceae) Pea Famiy

Leaves: Ternate, on stems ; leaflets oval, blunt ended, round, rather pointed or shallowly notched at tips, usually entire, often with lighter green, whitish or reddish markings, somewhat hairy and up to 3 cm. long.

Inflorescence: Egg-shaped or spherical raceme, solitary or in small groupsat ends of stem or branches

Flowers: 5 fused sepals, whitish-green and rather hairy, with thread like greenish points: 5 red petals 5 times as long as the calyx tube (10-15mmlong); standard significantly longer than wings or keel: 10 stamens ; superior ovary ; fertilised by insects.

Fruit: Pods

Usually perennial with upright stems; flowering from May to October

Medicago lupulina L

Black Medick
Fabáceae (Papilionáceae) Pea Family

Leaves: The 3 leavelets are oval or rhomboid, finely toothed, especially in the upper part, with scattered close hairs and blunt-ended or rather flat ; topmost leaflet has a stalk and is often rather larger than the latreal ones.

Inflorescence: Spherical racemes on stems growing in axils of stem leaves.

Flowers: On short stems ; 5 sepals, green with narrow pointed tips ; 5 petals forming standard, 2 wings and keel, yellow, up to 3.5mm long and dropping off after flowering ; 10 stamens, the top filament being free ; superior ovary.

Fruits: Kidney or sickle-shaped.

Annuals or short-lived perennials, flowering from May to September. – See more at: http://www.from-ireland.net/history/The-Real-Irish-Shamrock%3A-Imagery#display

The Real Irish Shamrock

The true Irish Shamrock, as identified by Nathaniel Colgan c. 1893 is a clover. It is not one of any or many clovers, it is one species, collected from a majority of counties at that time and with the exception of a very few plants, the majority were Trifolium repens or a form of this plant – White clover also known as Dutch Clover.

A few years ago, when I was in the United States, I made enquiries of the old lady whose house I was staying in as to the name of a plant she had, and I was told in no uncertain terms that it was a Shamrock – and she wondered how I could claim to be Irish if I didn’t know what it was!! The plant I saw was in no way anything like what we call Shamrock and even here, I notice differences in what is being sold as Shamrock from one place to another – so, the day I found this particular paper in the Irish Naturalist, I was delighted. I have found photographs and taxonomic descriptions of three of these four plants. The fourth plant mentioned Trifolium minus, “a species listed here that should ‘share the honour equally’ with Trifolium repens” – has been re-classified, and is now considered to be a form of Trifolium repensMany say that there is no true shamrock, it is simply a species of clover and can be any one of a number of different species- there are web sites that do say that Trifolium repens is the Irish Shamrock, but rarely is the person who came to this conclusion mentioned. Those sites that do name Nathaniel Colgan as the botanist, tend to give the impression that there are still other plants that fall into a general category of ‘Shamrock’Nathaniel Colgan collected plants from many Irish counties (not all), he did receive specimens from the Gaeltacht areas – those places that he considered that the people would produce the plant that was most likely the original ‘shamrock’ and because “the Irish-speaking districts of our island, where old national usages may be assumed to have the greatest tenacity of existence………..” and so, the conclusions drawn by Nathaniel Colgan on the basis of his work, given the time period this was carried out in should really be taken as evidence that there is one true shamrock. Trifolium repens and that Trifolium minus, considered at one time to be a separate species is really a form of Trifolium repens, that is to say the same plant, with some very minor differences, that do not accord it the distinction of a different species.

A ‘taxonomic’ description for those who may not be familiar with the word is a description of the parts or bits of a plant or animal that help us to distinguish between it and another similar plant or animal. These differences may be minute and hard to recognise unless you are familiar with the structure of any plant or animal.

The Shamrock : A Further attempt to fix its species

by Nathaniel Colgan

published in the Irish Naturalist 1893

On the approach of last Saint Patrick’s Day I was induced, chiefly by the kind offer of assistance made me by the editors of this Journal, to take in hands once more the inquiry into the species of our national badge, begun some years earlier, with the results detailed in the issue for last August. A notice to subscribers was accordingly inserted in the March number of this year, so framed as to ensure that all specimens sent in response should be certified as genuine by competent authorities, while, at the same time, as a provision against a not improbable lack of interest in the subject amongst the subscribers to the Irish Naturalist, some three dozens of circulars were prepared and sent by post to selected points in the Irish-speaking districts, chiefly along our western sea-board. These circulars, in almost all instances, were addressed to Roman Catholic parish clergymen; and, as I had fully expected, the percentage of replies they brought me was very much larger than in the case of the printed notice. Of the circulars, twenty per cent were answered, a proportion not far short of expectation. As for the printed notice distributed through the agency of the Irish Naturalist, I cannot presume to say exactly how small the percentage of answers may have been. Out of the whole body of subscribers, however, only eight forwarded specimens of Shamrocks; but, of these, one sent no less than five, another, four, and a third, three specimens, each certified as genuine by a distinct authority.

List of names of those who sent plants

In addition to the plants thus secured, Mr. F. W. Burbidge, Director of Trinity College Botanic Garden, supplied me with a root, certified by one of his gardeners, a Tipperary man, as the real Shamrock, and part of the stock grown in the Gardens, and supplied as such to English inquirers; another specimen was bought from an advertiser in the Co. Louth, who offered the plant for sale, at a not unprofitable price, “as the true Irish variety,” and, finally, three specimens were bought in Dublin on the 17th March as real Shamrock, from three different itinerant vendors, each of whom was required to exercise the most scrupulous care in the selection of the genuine plant from the obviously miscellaneous collection in her basket. (These three plants matured into three distinct species, Medicago lupulina, Trifolium repens and Trifolium minus)

Altogether, thirty-five Shamrocks -were secured and carefully planted and labelled, after they had been provisionally classified according to species. A study of the minuter distinctions of Trifolium repens, Trifolium minus and Medicago lupulina, made it possible to carry out the classification with confidence even in the undeveloped stage in which most of the specimens reached me: In no single instance, indeed, in which the plant survived up to the flowering and fruiting season, (and only two out of the total of thirty-five succumbed to the extraordinary dryness of the remarkable spring and early summer of this year), was this provisional classification found in error; so that my Patrick’s Day determination of these two as T. repens and T. minus, respectively, may be accepted as accurate. Of the surviving thirty-three plants, all had flowered and many had fruited by the 23rd June, T. minus in all cases keeping well ahead of T. repens. By the end of June the entire crop of Shamrocks, or, at least, specimens of the thirty-three plants of which it was made up, was harvested and garnered, that is to say, dried, mounted, and labelled, for the satisfaction of obstinate adherents of Trifolium repens.

The results of this harvest may be most clearly shown thus :-
19 Shamrocks matured into Trifolium repens.
12 Shamrocks matured into Trifolium minus.
2 Shamrocks matured into Trifolium pratense.
2 Shamrocks matured into Medicago lepulina.

It will be seen that the results of this year’s inquiry shows, contrary to my expectation, a decided preponderance in favour of T. repens. But if we add in the results of the former inquiry , the balance between the two species is almost redressed.

Bog Bursts, Ireland: County to County

Co. Londonderry

A.D. 1824, December 22.-Bog of Ballywindelland, Colerlaine.
A portion of this bog containing 80 or 100 acres gave way and passed into an adjoining valley: it gradually advanced on the firm land, during theday, at the rate of 2 feet per minute.

A.D. 1895, August 9.-Bog near Dungiven, Co. Derry
The site was in the townland of Briskey, at the east slope of Benbradagh; an extensive mountain bog 10 to 30 feet in depth, sloping at a gradient of about 1 in 12. Where the burst occurred a small stream runs underground for about a quarter mile, the ground above it being firm, so that cattle grazed on it.
On the evening of August 9th there, was a thunderstorm, but not accompanied by any excessive rainfall. The weather during the summer had been normal. In the night, probably, before midnight, between 2 and 3 acres of bog gave way. For some 40 yards length at its lower end, the bog burst out entirely. Over the rest a tapering area 300 feet wide by 600 long, the ground subsided about 10 feet, leaving great blocks of the solid crust, broken up in a fantastic way. A very considerable flood of water and peat poured down the stream, which eventually joins the River Roe. No damage was done, as the gradients are steep, and the land not under cultivation, but a cottage situated beside the stream 1 mile below the scene of the outburst narrowly escaped being washed away. A deposit of peat was left on the banks of the stream for a considerable distance. There is evidence of several similar slides having taken place in the district..

Ref: Information supplied by Mr. H.C. Moore, C.E., Dungiven (1897 – to Dr. Praeger)

Co. Galway

A.D.1745, March 28.- Bog of Addergoole, Dunmore, County Galway-
About mid-day, after a heavy thunder-shower, about 10 acres of bog, the front of which was being cut for turf, moved forward and down the course of a stream, and subsided upon a low pasture of 30 acres by the riverside, where it spread and settled, covering the whole. The stream thus dammed back, rose till it formed a lake of 300 acres, which, by the cutting of a channel, was subsequently reduced to 50 or 60 acres. This area, together with the 30 acres of meadow over which the bog spread, has been destroyed for purposes of husbandry.

Ref: Ouseley, Trans. R.I.A., vol. ii, Science, pp. 3-5, plate I., ?1887

A.D. 1821, September.-Joyce country, County Galway.-
“Upwards of a hundred acres of land, on which crops were growing and several families resided, were heard to emit a sound resembling thunder; the earth then became convulsed, and eventually this large tract moved down towards the sea, leaving the whole route over which it passed a complete waste.

A.D. 1873. October 1.-Bog 3 miles east of Dunmore, Co. Galway.
The bog was connected with the Dunmore river by the Carrabel, a small stream. It was considerably elevated above the surrounding country, its edges presenting the appearance of high turf banks. “A farmer digging potatoes suddenly observed a brown mass slowly approaching. Leaving his spade in the ground, he went for the neighbours, and on his return the mass of moving bog had half covered his potato field, and completely hidden his corn field from sight, except a few stacks which remained on a knoll, an island in the midst of a scene of desolation.” The bog slowly flowed down the valley of the Dunmore, burying three farm houses, and covering about 300 acres of pasture and arable land, 6 feet deep. The peat was cut along a perpendicular face, 25 to 30 feet in height, which extended down to the underlying gravel. It was from this cutting that the outburst took place, The flood of peat and water moved rapidly at first, but afterwards slowly, and continued in movement for 11 days. It carried away roads and bridges. The subsided portion of the bog extended eastwards from the face of the cutting for a distance of a quarter of a mile; its greatest breadth measured also a quarter of a mile, down the middle, a valley from 20 to 25 feet deep was formed, and about the sides the crust was torn asunder. The numerous crevasses so formed were fined to the top with black peaty fluid.

Ref: Savage, ‘Picturesque Ireland’ pp. 234-235

A.D. 1890. January 27.-Bog at Loughatorick North, Co. Galway
The bog is situated in the townland of Loughatorick North, on the Slieve Aughty Mountains, nearly on the watershed, and 300 feet above Ballinlough Lake, which lies N .E., and into which the bog drains by a small river. The bog consists of two portions, separated by a narrow neck, where exposed rock was seen after the outburst. The upper and larger part is 70 acres in extent, the lower only 15 acres. The latter began to move 3 days before the upper portion; in its centre was a small lake to which an underground stream could be traced; after the outburst, this lake became dry. After a fall of snow, a sudden thaw set in on the 24th January ; three days later a movement of the bog commenced, and continued till 1st February. Great masses of peat were carried away by the black flood into Ballinlough Lake, which was nearly filled with peat and the outwashed trunks of trees. The lowlands were covered with peat over an area of 100 acres:, and for a depth of 12 inches. Traces of the flood were visible to a height of 6 or 7 feet on the trunks of trees which stood in its course. The upper part of the bog subsided from 10 to 15 feet ; its margins were much rent with fissures.

Ref: Report to the Board of Public Works, by Mr. A.T. Pentland, 24th November 1890.

Co. Limerick

A.D. 1697, June 7th. Kapanihane Bog, Co. Limerick, near Charleville:
Described in a letter dated June 7th, 1697:

“On the 7th day of June, 1697, near Charleville, in the County of Limerick, in Ireland, a great Rumbling, or faint Noise was heard in the Earth, much like unto a Sound of Thunder near spent ; for a little Space the Air was somewhat troubled with little Whisking Winds, coming to meet contrary Ways: and soon after that, to the greater Terror and Afrightment of a great Number of Spectators, a more wonderful thing happened ; for in a Bog stretching North and South, the Earth began to more, viz. Meadow and Pasture Land that lay on the side of the Bog, and separated by an extraordinary large Ditch, and other Land on the further side adjoining to it; and a Rising, or Little Hill in the middle of the Bog thereupon sunk flat.

This Motion began about Seven of the Clock in the Evening, fluctuating in its Motion like Waves, the Pasture-Land rising very high, so that it over-run the Ground beneath it, and moved upon its Surface, rowling on with great pushing Violence, till it covered the Meadow, and held to remain upon it 16 Feet.

In the Motion of this Earth, it drew after it the Body of the Bog, part of it lying on the Place where the Pasture-Land that moved out of its Place it had before stood; leaving great Breaches behind it, and Spewings of Water that cast up noisom Vapours : And so it continues at present, to the great Wonderment of those that pass by, or come many Miles to be Eye-witnesses of so strange a thing.”

This communication was accompanied by a map and detailed description by John Honohane.

Ref: Philosophical Transactions, vol. Ixi, pp.714-716, October, 1697; & Boate, Molyneux and others, a Natural History of Ireland, 1755, p. 113

A.D. 1708. Castlegarde Bog, County Limerick.- The Castlegarde bog, or as it was then called Poulevard, moved along a valley and buried three houses containing about twenty-one persons. It was a mile long, a quarter mile broad, and about 20 feet deep in some parts. It ran for several miles, crossed the high road at Doon, broke, through several bridges, and flowed into the Lough of Coolpish.

Ref: Dublin Evening Telegraph, 2nd January 1897

A.D. 1840, January.- Bog of Farrtindoyle, Kanturk, Co. Cork.
The bog was 10 feet in thickness, resting on a substratum of yellow-clay; the pent-up water underrmined a prodigious mass of bog, and bore it buoyantly on its surface; twenty acres of valuable meadow were covered, and a cottage: was propelled and engulfed ; a quarter of a mile of the road from Kanturk to Williamstown was covered 12 to 30 feet deep.

Ref: Freemans journal, January 3, 1840 (copied from the Cork Standard)

Co. Longford

A. D.1809,December 6.- Bog of Rine, Camlin River, County Longford.
“In the night during a thunderstorm, about 20 acres of the bog burst asunder in numerous places, leaving chasms of many perches in length, and of various breadths, from 10 feet to 3 inches. The rifts were in general parallel to the river, but in some places the smaller rifts were at right angles to it; not only the bog, but the bed of the river was forced upward; the boggy bottom filling up the channel of the river, and rising 3 or 4 feet above its former banks. In a few hours 170 acres of land were by these means overflowed, and they continued in that state for many months, till the bed of the river was cleared by much labour and at considerable expense.”

The bog had been an unusually wet one. It did not sink in any particular place. “Several earthquakes were felt in distant countries about 16th December, …and it is not absolutely impossible that a communication may exist between them ” (the earth quake and the bog-slide.)

Ref: Edgeworth, App. 8 to the 2nd Report of Bog Commission, p. 176, 1811

A.D. 1883. January 30- Bog near Newtownforbes, Co. Longford.
“A bog near Newtownforbes has commenced to migrate, covering turf and potatoes.”

A.D. 1819, January.- Owenmore Valley, Erris, Co. Mayo
“A mountain tarn burst its banks, and heaving the bog that confined it, came like a liquid wall a-down, forcing everything along boulders, bog timber, and sludge, until, as it were in an instant, it broke upon the houses [of a small village], carrying all before it, stones, timbers, and bodies; and it was only some days after, that at the estuary of the river in Tullohan Bay, the bodies of the poor people were found.”

Ref: Otway, “Sketches in Erris and Tirawley,” p. 14, 1841

Co. Offaly

A.D. 1821, June 26.Bog of Kilmaleady, near Clara, King’s Co. (Offaly)
The excellent report on the outbreak of this bog, communicated to the Royal Dublin Society by Sir Richard Griffith, may with advantage be consulted by those who are interested in the subject. It will be found in the Journal of the Royal Dublin Society, vol. I., pp. 14I-144 and map, 1858.

Sir William. Wilde gives the following additional particulars taken from the daily press of the time :~
At 7 p.m:, of the evening of the 26th June, the south front of the bog of Ballykillion, or Kilmalady, gave way to a depth of 25 feet, and with a tremendous noise, commenced to move down the valley at the rate of about 2 yards an hour, with a front 200 yards wide, and about 8 feet deep. It continued to move for more than a month,
“About the same time the Ferret bog, about 16 miles north-east of Kilmalady, was strongly agitated, boiling up to a great height.”

Ref: Census of Ireland for the year 1851, part v., vol., I, 1856, pp. 189, 190
Co. Sligo
A.D. 1831, January.- Bog, near Geevagh, Co. Sligo.
” After a sudden thaw of snow, the bog between Bloomfield and Geevagh gave way; and a black deluge, carrying with it the contents of 100 acres of bog, took the direction of a small stream, and rolled on with the violence of a torrent, sweeping along heath, timber, mud, and stones, and overwhelming many meadows and arable land. On passing through some boggy land, the flood swept out a wide and deep ravine, and a part of the road leading from Bloomfield to St. James’s Well was completely carried away from below the foundation for the breadth of 200 yards.”

Ref: Lyell, Principles of Geology’ 10th ed., vol. ii., p. 504

Co. Roscommon

A.D. 1870,December 14, 9 a..m.- Bog near Castlereagh, Co. Roscommon
The bog is situated 5 miles north-east of Castlereagh,on the watershed of the River Suck and the Owen-na-foreesha, a tributary of Lough Gara ; it overlies cavernous limestone. The eruption, took place from the face of a turf-cutting, which was from 12 to 15 feet in height. A very rapid flood of peat and water poured forth, bearing on its surface large masses or the crust of the bog; it rose 10 feet over Baslick Bridge, and left a deposit of peat, which covered 165 acres of low ground and extended for some 6 or 7 miles down the valley of the Suck; A valley was formed in the peat bog half a mile in length and 20 feet deep.

Ref: Report to the Board of Public Works, by Mr. Forsyth, 26th & 28th January, 1871

A.D. 1883. .January 25.- Bog near Castlereagh, Co. Roscommon.
“The bog was situated between the villages of Moor and Baslick; in about two hours it moved a mile in a south-westerly direction towards the River Suck; after a short interval the movement continued, some 4,000 acres of land were covered, three houses had to be deserted, several roads were blocked; the Ballinagare road being covered 15 feet deep. Eleven or twelve years ago the Tulla bog, situated about a quarter of a mile from the scene of the present outbreak, burst and discharged itself to the river Suck.”

Ref: Report to the Board of Public Works, by Mr. Forsyth, 31st October, 1883.

Co. Tipperary

A.D. 1788, March 27. Bog near Dundrum, county Tipperary.
A large bog of 1500 acres, lying between Dundrum and Cashel, in the county of Tipperary, began to be agitated in an extraordinary manner, and to the astonishment and terror of neighbouring inhabitants. The rumbling noise from the bog gave the alarm, and on the 30th it burst, and a kind of lava issued from it, which took its direction towards Ballygriffen and Golden, overspreading and laying waste a vast tract or fine fertile land belonging to John Hide Esq. Everything that opposed its course was buried in ruins. Four houses were totally destroyed, and the trees that stood near them torn up by the roots. The discharge has been incessant since the 30th, and how far it will extend cannot at present be deter.

Gentleman’s Magazine, vol 1viii, p. 355, 1788