AWAKENING THE WEST
THE officer in charge in Athenry was Larry Lardener, who kept a small bar in the centre of the town. He secured accommodation for Mellows at Mrs. Broderick’s boarding house where the less substantial commercial folk used to stay during fairs and other special events. At first Mellows found south Galway harsh and rcpelent with its damp skies and grey stone walls. After a time he yielded to the fascination of a varied and historic landscape which he came to know in intimate detail.
The region consists of low undulating country bounded by the sea on the west and the Aughty mountains in the south, while on the north and east it merges into the plains of east Galway that extend from the great lakes to the Suck. It is a country studded with ruins. Every square mile seems to have its castle, which except for the more elaborate edifice at Athenry consists simply of a rectangular keep surmounted by a look-out post. It was thus formerly a land of small potentates. But these had been replaced by large landlords alongside whom survived a mass of small holdings.
Statistics for south Galway alone are not available. The averages for the whole county will not, however, be far out. The area occupied by holdings of from fifteen to thirty acres in 1912 was 204,435 acres. Land in holdings of above 500 acres amounted to 286,839 acres. Yet the smaller holdings had fourteen times as much land in corn, fifteen times as much in roots and greens, carried twelve times as many milch cows, thirty times as many pigs, twenty times as much poultry and one-and-a-half times the number of sheep. The area of pasture land on the two types of holding was approximately equal, that on the large farms being 101,792 acres, and that on the small 93,642. The large farms carried only one-and-a-quarter times as many cattle over two years old as the small farms, and had no less than 179,679 acres which were put to no agricultural use at all. While much of this land would be barren mountain suitable only for hunting, shooting and fishing, the unutilised land on the small farms amounted to only 35,795 acres.1
1 By way of contrast, in County Wexford the greatest area of land was distributed in medium holdings of 50−100 acres, only one-twentieth of their area being comprised in holdings of over 500 acres. In every product the medium farms were supreme and there was little land hunger.