Arthur Young and farming in 18th century Louth

NPG 6253; Arthur Young by John Russell

Portrait of Arthur Young (1741–1820), by John Russell, 1794

For those interested in eighteenth-century agricultural history, Arthur Young’s Tour in Ireland (1780) is an excellent source. Young, an English agricultural reformer and writer, was born in London in 1741. In his early twenties he turned to a career in agriculture. He collected many books on improved farming techniques, and eventually began to write on the topic himself.

In 1776 Young made a visit to Ireland. Armed with letters of introduction, he travelled widely, visiting many Irish landlords and describing the improvement they had made, and the manner in which they farmed their estates.  He returned home to England in October of that year, returning the following summer in the capacity of resident agent to Lord Kingsborough, with responsibility for supervising a huge estate at Michelstown to the north of Cork. Young stayed in Cork for only a year before returning to England. His book documenting his travels in Ireland, A Tour in Ireland, appeared in 1780.

Young describes visiting two estates in Co. Louth, that of Baron Forster in Collon, and Fortescue at Ravensdale. Young notes both landowners as having undertaken substantial improvements on their estates, turning the ‘wastes’ of their estates to profitable farmland. Strained relationships between tenants and landlord are hinted at on Foresters estate, where Young notes that the tenantry were reluctant to embrace Forster’s improvement schemes, despite his persuasion. Young notes the creeping enclosure of mountain land in Ravensdale, and the practice of collective renting among tenants who used the mountain as commonage.

… [I] took the road to Cullen, where the Lord Chief Baron Forster received me in the most obliging manner, and gave me a variety of information uncommonly valuable.  He has made the greatest improvements I have anywhere met with.  The whole country twenty-two years ago was a waste sheep-walk, covered chiefly with heath, with some dwarf furze and fern.  The cabins and people as miserable as can be conceived; not a Protestant in the country, nor a road passable for a carriage.  In a word, perfectly resembling other mountainous tracts, and the whole yielding a rent of not more than from three shillings to four shillings an acre.  Mr. Forster could not bear so barren a property, and determined to attempt the improvement of an estate of five thousand acres till then deemed irreclaimable.  He encouraged the tenants by every species of persuasion and expense, but they had so ill an opinion of the land that he was forced to begin with two or three thousand acres in his own hands; he did not, however, turn out the people, but kept them in to see the effects of his operations.


To Dundalk.  The view down on this town also very beautiful: swelling hills of a fine verdure, with many rich inclosures backed by a bold outline of mountain that is remarkable.  Laid at the Clanbrassil Arms, and found it a very good inn.  The place, like most of the Irish towns I have been in, full of new buildings, with every mark of increasing wealth and prosperity.  A cambric manufacture was established here by Parliament, but failed; it was, however, the origin of that more to the north.


July 22.  Left Dundalk, took the road through Ravensdale to Mr. Fortescue, to whom I had a letter, but unfortunately he was in the South of Ireland.  Here I saw many good stone and slate houses, and some bleach greens; and I was much pleased to see the inclosures creeping high up the sides of the mountains, stony as they are.  Mr. Fortescue’s situation is very romantic–on the side of a mountain, with fine wood hanging on every side, with the lawn beautifully scattered with trees spreading into them, and a pretty river winding through the vale, beautiful in itself, but trebly so on information that before he fixed there it was all a wild waste.  Rents in Ravensdale ten shillings; mountain land two shillings and sixpence to five shillings.  Also large tracts rented by villages, the cottars dividing it among themselves, and making the mountain common for their cattle.

Ravensdale House

Detail Ravendale House from the first edition Ordnance Survey map



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