Irish Traditional Agriculture FAQs
Learn more about the traditional equipment and practice of Irish agriculture
- What activities typically took place on the farm?
- What is threshing and how was it carried out?
- What was the most common implement on the Irish Farm?
- What were the most common sorts of plough?
- Where can I find out more about traditional Irish agriculture?
What activities typically took place on the farm?
Farming activities varied according the season. In early springtime the ground was prepared and ploughed for crops. Seaweed might be harvested as a fertiliser. In mid spring crops were planted. Many lambs and calves are born at this time.
In May and June, turf was cut for fuel. Cattle would be let out to pasture. During the summer, crops would be weeded. Hay was the first crop to be cut. Cut turf had to be turned to dry it out. Potatoes would be sprayed against blight.
The cereal harvest would begin in August and soon the first potatoes would be ready too. In September the turf would be brought home. Fruit and berries would be picked in September and October, root crops harvested through to December.
In the wintertime, fences and equipment would be repaired, drains cleared. Cattle would be housed and fed. Throughout the year, cows would be milked and markets regularly attended to buy or sell animals.
What is threshing and how was it carried out?
Threshing, related to ‘thrashing’, indicates that the grain crop was beaten in order to separate the edible grain seed from the inedible stalk. It could simply be beaten against a rock, or with connected sticks called ‘flails’. The process became mechanised with the use of hand-operated machines and later large belt-driven machines run from steam-engines or tractors. Combine harvesters would later combine the job in a compete process with reaping and winnowing.
What was the most common implement on the Irish Farm?
It depends on the farm, but the spade was the single most common implement and existed on the smallest farm. In Ireland there was great local variety in spades, which were particularly adapted to potato cultivation and the making of cultivation ridges. Two sided spades spread from the north and east and were mainly produced in spade mills. One sided ‘loys’ were more common in the west and south-west and were mainly produced by blacksmiths. Only the two sided variety are now made. Special spades called ‘slanes’ were also produced for cutting peat for fuel.
What were the most common sorts of plough?
Metal ‘swing ploughs’, which had no wheels, were favoured in hilly and stony places. In better soil conditions, wheel ploughs were more common and made for easier ploughing. In a few places wooden ploughs were made by local craftsmen into the mid 20th Century. Ploughs were made in Ireland most notably by Pierce of Wexford.
Where can I find out more about traditional Irish agriculture?
Muckross House, Gardens and Traditional Farms
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park
Sligo Folk Park Museum of Irish farming and traditional life
Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
Ulster American Folk Park
Jonathan Bell and Mervyn Watson, Irish Farming, John Donald, Edinburgh, 1986
John Feehan, Farming in Ireland, UCD Dublin 2004
Olive Sharkey, Old Ways, Old Ways. O’Brien, BAC 1985 7 ó shin
Estyn Evans, Irish Folk Ways, Londain 1957
Lucas, A.T. ‘Furze, a survey and history of its uses in Ireland’, Béaloideas 26, 1-203
Ní Chinnéide, M agus Cussen, C. Bainne na Bó: bainne agus bánbhianna in Éirinn ó thús aimsire. BAC 1986
Majella Flynn, Harvest, A History of Grain Growing, Macroom 1996
Ó Fiannachta, Pádraig (ed). An Bhó. Iris na hOidhreachta 4, Baile an Fheirtéaraigh, 1992
Ó Danachair, Caoimhín. ‘The Spade in Ireland’, Béaloideas 31, 98-113
O'Neill, Tim, ‘Machinery on Irish Farms 1700-1981', in Gold Under the Furze, Gailey, Alan, Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí (eds)
Séamas Mac Philib, ‘Folk Tradition and the Rural Environment’ in F. Mitchell (ed.), The Book of the Irish Countryside, 262-8. Town House/Blackstaff Press, Belfast 1987