More desirable properties viewed and commented upon by John Barrow in County Mayo in 1835:
A better sort of Mayo stone cabin
“Even while the small farmer is able, from his surplus produce, to pay his rent, his condition is far from enviable, but might with a little management be improved. If he can afford to keep a cow and a pig, he generally admits both to be partakers of the same apartment; and though his cottage may be a degree better than that of the labourer, yet it is kept equally filthy; everything within it being soiled with smoke and soot, and the puddle and the dunghill invariably found before the door. The rent of such a cottage, if built by the landlord, may be about £2 a-year; turf, 30s.; the man’s clothing 40s.; the woman’s 30s.; and four children, say 30s.; making altogether £8 10s. The rent, say of three acres and a cow-grass, £9. The routine of his crops is, potatoes, barley, and oats. The barley is sold to be distilled into whiskey, and this and the pig contribute to the payment of rent and fuel; and the potatoes, the cow, and the oatmeal, supply the family with food. The females are employed in spinning linen and woollen yarn, and in knitting worsted stockings; of the woollen yarn is manufactured a kind of frieze, druggets and flannels, the common wear of the peasantry: after supplying the family clothing, the surplus helps to pay the rent.”
A common Mayo stone cabin
“Ballaghaderreen is the end of the first stage, and our road to it was by French Park, so called, I believe, after the family to whom the property belongs, I saw little or no cultivation, and the cabins I passed were for the most part wretched mud hovels, many of them worse than I had yet seen in Donegal or Fermanagh.
The whole country wore a sad appearance of poverty; and yet, on driving into the above-mentioned little village with a long name, I was much surprised to find the street full of people attending the fair, all well dressed, the men, generally, in light gray-coloured coats of home-manufactured frize, with large metal buttons; and the women wearing large cloth cloaks with hoods covering the head, some of which were thrown back, and displayed a clean, tidy-looking muslin cap.”
Farther on, after heading west ….
“The country we now passed through was wretched in the extreme, and the land bore a very stony and barren appearance, except where we came upon an enormous extent of black bog, whereon was not a blade of grass or any living thing, animal or vegetable, for the eye to rest upon. This bog was infinitely the largest I had hitherto seen. The cabins, which were wretched-looking hovels, were generally built of stones loosely heaped together, without mortar or even clay. You must not suppose they were either Cyclopean, Pelasgic, or Etrurian, though, like the latter, they were polygonal, but composed of such polygons as nature or accident had made.
Some of the inclosures of the fields were of the same construction, which is of so convenient a fabric, as to render any kind of gate unnecessary, an article of rare occurrence in Ireland. If a cow or cart is to be driven in or out, it is only by pushing down a gap in the wall, and piling up the stones again in any fashion. Altogether, this part of the country presented a more general appearance of poverty than I had hitherto met with; and the turf dykes, clay ditches, and stone walls, did not contribute to improve a view, which in itself was sombre and melancholy in the extreme.”
Extracts from John Barrow’s book “A Tour Round Ireland” published in 1836.