Following the construction of Malin Hall, John Harvey undertook a massive scheme of tree planting which was intended as an investment and would also add to the amenities of the demesne. Between 1777 and 1779, he planted 24,700 trees including shrubbery and orchards. Some of the trees are still standing today, over 250 years later. This extract is taken from a hand-written Register of Trees owned by John Harvey “according to Act of Parliament”. It is presumed that in the eighteenth century, landlords were obliged to maintain such a register. Timber was an important element of the economy and was used in house construction, furnaces, ship building and furniture manufacture which employed thousands of artisans. The varieties planted are listed below and written in John Harvey’s hand. He made a number of calculations in the register and estimated the value of the trees at over £28,138 if cut at maturity when top prices were payable.
Poplars, oak, ash, elm, limes, chestnuts, spruce firs, scotch pines, sycamore, silver birch, and beech.
The mix of wood types in interesting by contract with today. Much of the countryside is scarred by mass planting of one genre, mainly spruce and fir. When one looks at the fine plantation which is still standing today at Malin Hall and compares it with the recent mass planting of conifers, it is easy to see that the older system of mixed woodlands was preferable.
In Irish history, much has been written about the destruction of our forests by the English. In times of warfare, the land was laid waste in order to flush out the enemy. John Harvey’s scheme of tree planting is a refreshing reversal of the destruction of our natural assets in earlier centuries. It also highlights the role of resident landlords who made an investment in the community and provided employment for farm labourers. It is true that wages were abysmal but the alternative was starvation. Most landlords were absentees who operated through agents who were generally quite merciless. The Malin plantation may encourage historians to re-consider the role of landlords and not tar them all with the same brush.
I regard the woodlands between Malin Hall and Lagg church as one of the unexpected treasures of the Wild Atlantic Way. Next time you drive towards Lagg from Malin, take a break and admire the ancient woodlands with their flourishing history.
(The Register is in private hands and not publicly available).