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Irish Hay Meadows of Ireland's Past

We were recently tagged in a post by @AgrimonySpikes on Twitter about Irish Hay Meadows from Ireland's past. It was such a lovely read that we asked to reprint the thread here on our blogpost, and it was duly given. We are very grateful to @AgrimonySpikes and you can follow them on Twitter here, and the original thread can be read here.

The thread went as follows:

A thread on Irish hay meadows of Ireland's past for all you biodiversity, grassland, nature friendly farming, species rich grassland fans out there. #irishhaymeadows

My source. Obviously one book is not wide ranging but it's good for referencing Irish agriculture practice of bygone times

Hay meadows did occur in early Manors and Monastic sites but weren’t common in Ireland until the 1700s.

Large tenant farmers could have 100 acres of hay, small farmers had 2 to 3 acres. Cottars often bought hay. Hay was the main crop after pasture by 1904. Records of Ireland exporting hay to Norway!

Some valued meadows created from intentional natural colonization of tilled land (Maybe like Machair areas of Scotland). Others created when grass clover sown with tillage crops.

Early accounts of seed source include seed from neighbor farms collected to increase diversity but most seed sourced from sweepings of barn lofts or Inn lofts. Inn seed collection must have been fun! 🍺🍺🍺

But all accounts say that most hay crops mown from permanent pasture. Not sure if latter always equated to dedicated hay meadow fields or rotational use of permanent pasture.

Antrim, Derry, Monaghan, Cavan and Dublin became known for commercial hay seed supply. Ireland self sufficient in seed until the 1960s.

Agricultural improvers disapproved of too much turning (causing loss of brittle clover) and late harvesting in Ireland (quantity vs quality). But lauded the practice of creating hay laps. RTE have 1988 archive image but possibly more like mounds.

Hay laps (called gráinneog (hedgehog) in Irish) were small wheels of hay squashed a bit and overlaid with hay lengths perpendicular. Structure allowed air movement, good drying. Likely backbreaking. Common in Northern areas Leitrim, Mayo, Meath (Drumlins and small fields)

Ingenious horse drawn equipment brought efficiency (and beginning of corncrake demise). Sickle bars Mowing Machines, Hay rakes, Hay carts, and Tumblin Paddies.

Grasses and clovers favored by agricultural improvers. Guessing may have been regional local hay meadow types similar to GB (floodplain (callows), northern meadows, rhos), Lost to time now. Do @GrasslandsIrl know of regional hay meadow types with different plant communities.

Hay meadows now potentially Annex habitat in Ireland. Indicator Species here.


Thanks again to @AgrimonySpikes. If you have a written a piece or would like to add one to our blog, then we'd love to hear from you. Send an email to us at You can support our #BeeAHero campaign in helping us to manage 34 acres for pollinators and wildlife and 1.5% (more than 40 kms) of the Irish Coast for marine litter by clicking this link

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