A Statistical and Agricultural Survey of the County of Galway

Hely Dutton Cover

Hely Dutton’s Statistical Survey published in 1824 gives an insight into the agricultural and economic conditions in Co. Galway around that time. As a pre-Great Famine source it provides some intimation of the lives of the Irish peasant farmer, the conditions under which they worked and the social and health influences leading up to the famine period. Dutton’s prefaces his work with an address to the reader, explaining that his goal was to procure ‘further information respecting the state of husbandry in the district’.[1] His further articulated aim in gathering this information was to make it available for comment and examination so that others could contribute to the improvement of the welfare of the country.

His study covers the use of oxen, markets for grain, the nature of fencing and drainage, the size of towns and villages, use of beer and spirits, state of fisheries, mills, manufacturing and morals, manners and customs of the people.

Reflecting on the state of farm houses for example, he states that dwellings were often peculiarly built below the level of the ground surrounding them. This meant that those entering had to ‘step down’ into the house meaning they were often damp. Animals like pigs and chickens were given free reign around the sitting room, he said, ‘adding to the filthy state of the dwelling.[2] The chickens were usually kept in the house at night as the warmth was of benefit to them. Windows in these houses were rare, sometimes the door was the only means through which fresh air and sunlight could be provided.

Houses were generally made from clay, sometimes on a foundation of stone with a thatched roof. On many the roof did not project far enough, occasioning the walls to ‘melt away’ after many years of heavy rain or frost. Dutton bemoaned the callousness of some landlords in not directing or supervising the building of better dwellings.

Dutton on fuel

An increasingly common aspect of tenure was the 21-year lease, reduced from the more usual 31-year or lease for life. In many places it was the custom to give part of a division of land to a son or daughter on marriage, this occurring to the extent that one area once had 6 families later had 20.[3] This has an effect on the cutting and managing of turf banks in bogs too. Where once there may have been sufficient fuel for 6 families an arrangement later had to be made to accommodate 20 houses.

What is immediately of interest in Dutton’s Survey is not only the generic agricultural and economic information, but his reference to individual estates and landlords. On the estate of Mr Kirwan of Hillsbrook, Tuam, Co. Galway, tenants burned their ground every second year digging up the stubble in winter ‘into small sods which they leave to dry until March or April, when they burn them and have fine crops.’[4] Mr Kirwan informed him that the returns were as good last year as 30 years ago. Reference is made too to Lord Clonbrock and Mr French and the practise of irrigation at Roxborough, Castleboy, Gort and Woodlawn as well as other places near Tuam.

Another useful feature is his listing of the market towns in the county. Tuam, for example, is listed as a ‘handsome town’, having a weekly market with excellent meat, a market house, billiard table and reading room.[5] He refers too, to the dispensary under the management of Dr. Little and two well edited newspapers available in the town. Loughrea he considered, a ‘considerable market town…charmingly situated on the lake’.[6]

Dutton finishes his survey with information about food, the price of labour, the state of the roads, fisheries and schools.


[1] Hely Dutton, A statistical and agricultural survey of County Galway, (Dublin, 1824), p. ii.

[2] ibid, p.149.

[3] ibid, p.153.

[4] ibid, p. 178.

[5] ibid, p.327.

[6] ibid, p.328.

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