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Duties of the Irish tenant farmer :: one fatt Unshorne Mutton, one Bole of Barley, &c.

Three sheep, woodcut, 1547. Source: Wellcome Library, London (UK); archival ref. L0029220. Digital image online at Wellcome Images, and Wikimedia (accessed 2016-08-14), where the image is captioned, Three sheep Coloured Woodcut 1491 Ortus sanitatis Arnaldus de Villanova, Published: 1491. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International CC BY 4.0. Edited by Alison Kilpatrick (2016, 2023). — Readers are encouraged to visit the Creative Commons site, to learn about the rights and restrictions attached to this image.

one fatt Unshorne Mutton
One Bole of Barley
Twelve Fatt Henns
Six days work of Man & horse

The 21st century reader would be forgiven for thinking that these might have been lines from an ancient verse or folk song. As it happens, these words defined the duties of the Irish tenant farmer to his landlord, over and above the payment of monies, as inscribed in a lease drawn up in October, 1735.1

The subject of this exaction—but, by no means, an exception in his class—was William Garvan, a weaver, and resident of Mullinaveagh townland in the parish of Aghaloo. The landlord was Miss Margaret Hamilton of Caledon, an heiress in her own right, who became the Countess of Orrery in 1738.

Most of the terms seem to fall within the norm for an 18th century lease: a farm let in Mullinaveagh, with all and Singular the Rights Members & Appurtenances thereunto belonging, with liberty to Cutt Turff in Tavanaghan Moss (but only for fires to be spent on his premises); for a term of three lives, including that of his own son, William, jun.; for an annual rent of £23 14s, plus 6p in the pound for Receiver’s Fees; 2 however, without a clause of renewal.

It was also not uncommon for the landlord to insert a clause in the lease which defined the duties of the Irish tenant farmer, for example, requiring a man, often with his horse, to work one or more days each year. This was known as duty-work—to be performed in service to the landlord, at the time and place of his choosing. Other usual obligations included the specification that the tenant grind his grain at the landlord’s mill and, of course, pay the related tariff, and do Suit & Service to the Courts Leet and Court Baron of the Manor.3 All of these customs were feudal in nature and intent, that is: in accordance with the ancient customs of feudal law, the tenant held land only as a feudal inferior, in obeisance, and at his lord’s pleasure. As an humble weaver, then, William was in no position to dispute with the Mistress Hamilton any of the clauses included in the lease.

By extension, no obligation existed for the landlord to give notice to the tenant as to when he would be required to present himself for duty-work, though this often took the form of field labour during the harvest. Worse, the landlord reserved the right to specify whether the tenant would perform this work in kind, or pay the duty-fine. Obviously, a tenant farmer had considerably less disposable income than the merchants and attorneys of the middle class: he also had to work that much harder and put in longer hours of labour in order to obtain his subsistence.

Thus, the tenant lived perpetually on this precarious perch: how would he get in his own harvest while having to do his landlord’s reaping? Would his own fowl and grain thrive sufficiently to meet the landlord’s claim? Could he sustain the health of not only himself, but also of his sons and horses, in order to render the six days’ service? Or, after all, depending upon the landlord’s whim, would he instead have put by enough coinage in order to make the duty-fine payment?

These feudal customs between Irish landlords and their tenants persisted well into the last half of the nineteenth century—practices which surely contributed towards agrarian disturbances and much unrest—until the land wars finally led to the creation of the Irish Land Commission.

… which leaves the question, What was one bole of barley? For this, we might refer to the following, nearly contemporary explanation (1833): 4

Wheat and pulse were lately measured by the auchlet of nine pints thirteen gills, sixteen of which made a bole, equal to one bole, three firlots, seventeen pints, one choppin, 2 gills, standard measure, or one English quarter. Oats, barley, and malt were measured by the auchlet, heaped to one eighth more.

Sifting through this confusing array of archaic measures, another source defines the relationship of the firlot to the bole (or boll): 5

Linlithgow Wheat Measure.
1 Firlot = 2197.335 cub. in.
4 Firlots = 1 Bole = 8789.340 cub. in.

Since these measures appear to have varied throughout Scotland and England, we might assume that a different set of equivalencies existed in Ireland, and that regional variations probably also prevailed.

Whatever the measure, the bole of barley represented another burden to the tenant-farmer who was just trying to make his way.

Source citation for this page: — Kilpatrick, Alison. “Duties of the Irish tenant farmer: One fatt Unshorne Mutton.” Blog article published to Arborealis,, accessed [insert date of access].


  1. Registry of Deeds, Ireland. Memorial no. 129-333-87281: Hamilton to Garvan (dated 25 October 1735; registered 15 December 1747). Digital image online at per FHL film no. 522833. Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick, and submitted to, 2016-08-13.
  2. Receiver’s fees: the charge of collection, commonly at a fixed rate. Source: Watkins, Thomas. “Rules for correcting the usual Methods of computing Amounts and present Values, by Compound as well as Simple Interest; and of stating Interest Accounts.” Philosophical Transactions. Vol. XXVIII. London: D. Brown, et al (pg. 114).
  3. Suit and Service: the service which a tenant was bound to render for the land he held, which required him to follow, or do suit to, the lord in his courts in time of peace and in his armies, or warlike retinue, when called to the field. Source: Tomlins, Thomas Edlyne. The Law-Dictionary: explaining the Rise, Progress, and Present State, of the English Law, &c. Vol. II. London: J. and W.T. Clarke, &c., 1835 (pg. ccxiv).
  4. Gorton, John. A Topographical Dictionary of Great Britain and Ireland. Vol. III. Under the heading, “Wigtown.” London: Chapman and Hall, 1833 (pg. 780).
  5. Cooke, Layton. Tables Adapted to the Use of Farmers and Graziers. London: Longman, Hurst, et al, 1813 (pg. 103).