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The economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century online

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^Considcraiious on Considerations, etc.. Dublin, 1724.

"^ AnsMcr to Sct'Cral Utters. 1729.

" Distressed Slate of Ireland. Dublin, 1740.

« Tour in Ireland, vol. ii.. p. 88. « Newenham, p. 154.


work owing to the timber of the country having been
used up for fuel. Kinahan' says that the woods finally
gave out in 1765/ This evil was aggravated by an
English Act of Parliament of 1695, which took off the
duties on bar iron unwrought, and iron slit and ham-
mered into rods when imported from Ireland. The Irish
Parliament tried to improve matters by imposing duties
on all iron goods exported to any place except Great
Britain, but, as the greatest amount of Irish bar iron
went to Great Britain, this relief was not of much use.^
The country must have been completely denuded of
timber. Young, in his Tour, gives the following
description : — " Through every part of Ireland, in which
I have been, one hundred contiguous acres are not to
be found without evident signs that they were once wood,
or at least very well wooded. Trees, and the roots of
trees of the largest size, are dug up in all the bogs; and,
in the cultivated counties, the stumps of trees destroyed
show that the destruction has not been of any antient
date. . . . The kingdom exhibits a naked, bleak, dreary
view for want of wood, which has been destroyed for a
century past, with the most thoughtless prodigality, and
still continues to be cut and wasted, as if it was not worth
the preservation. The Baltic fir supplies all the uses of
the kingdom, even those for which nothing is proper but
oak ; and the distance of all the ports of Ireland from that
sea, makes the supply much dearer than it is in England.
In conversation with gentlemen, I found they very gener-
ally laid the destruction of timber to the common people
who, they say, have an aversion to a tree; at the earliest
age they steal it for a walking stick ; afterwards for a
spade handle; later for a car shaft; and later still for a
cabin rafter. That the poor do steal it is certain, but I
am clear the gentlemen of the country may thank them-
selves. Is it the consumption of sticks and handles that
has destroyed millions of acres? Absurdity! The

' Economic Geology of Ireland. 2 See Laffan, Political Arithmeiic, 1785.
8 Murray, Com. Rel., 85.


profligate, prodigal, worthless landowner cuts down his
acres, and leaves them unfenced against cattle, and then
he has the impudence to charge the scarcity of trees to
the walking sticks of the poor.'"

It was said towards the end of the century that
although the country appeared completely denuded of
trees on a cursory view, a closer survey would disclose
the existence of many trees of great size and beauty.'
The bounties granted by the Dublin Society for the
fencing of areas for coppice wood seem to have been pro-
ductive of good results. The number of trees planted
annually by persons claiming the bounty for not less than
ten acres so planted amounted on an average, for the years
1788-93, to 500,000.' Wakefield, on the other hand,
was of opinion that the Dublin Society had done " little
or nothing " to improve planting.*

The consequences of this destruction of timber were
very disastrous. In the first place, it deprived the country
of its natural shelter from the prevailing Atlantic winds,
and is supposed to have rendered it less fertile than it
would otherwise have been. It also had a serious effect
on the brewing industry ; hops could not be grown in
Ireland owing to the complete lack of timber; this will
be more fully referred to in the chapter on Irish breweries.
The destruction of the oaks left Ireland without any bark
for its tanning industry, one of the consequences of which
was that the English Parliament was in a position to ruin
this industry at any moment by withholding the English
supplies of bark; the knowledge of this power often in
later years hindered the Irish Parliament from acting on
its own best judgment for the good of the country. The
iron works which had proved so profitable could no more
be worked ; the trade of smoking herrings could not be
carried on ; and the shortage of home supplies of iron,
coupled with the shortage of timber itself, proved verv
detrimental to the progress of Irish shipbuilding.

' VounR's Tour in Irelanti. vol. i.. p. 85.
J Practical Treatise on Planting. Dublin. 1794.
''>• * Wakefield, vol. i.. pp. 522-579.

Mines and Minerals.

IRELAND is by no means naturally deficient in mineral
wealth ; it is known that large supplies of coal, iron,
copper and lead are to be found in the country, and it is
suspected that there are deposits of silver and gold in
various districts. It is quite obvious to anyone who has
looked at the specimens of ancient Irish metal work in
the National Museum that the old inhabitants of the
ccnntr)/ were skilled workers. " The English writers on
Ireland, such as Spenser, Raleigh, Ledwich, Boate and
others, insinuate or positively state that the Irish, before
the English came to the country, were perfectly incapable
of finding or working minerals. This, however, the
researches of the antiquarians have proved to be perfectly
incorrect, as the early Irish were eminent workers in gold,
silver, brass, and, I believe, iron. Their trade
degenerated, and perhaps altogether ceased during the
internal wars before and after the advent of the English.'"
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, practically
no mining work was carried on in the country. This was
the result of several causes — the many internal wars
which had destroyed the peace of Ireland during the
previous century; the lack of capital; and the great
insecurity of property which was felt at the time. Possibly
the last cause was the one most fatal to the development
of the mineral wealth of the country ; the landlord, looking
back on the many confiscations and re-settlements of the

1 Kinahan, Economic Geology of Ireland, 1889.

ir,H THI-: rxoNOMic history of Ireland

previous century, was loth to lay out money on a large
scale on land, which might be taken from him in the
event of some new upheaval ; whereas the tenants, who,
as we have seen, were all holders for short terms, had no
encouragement to improve and develop the land.' The
Irish Parliament, aware of these discouragements, early
in the century passed an Act authorising persons with
limited interests in land to lease copper, tin, iron, or
lead mines for thirty-one years in possession," and
this power was extended to coal mines in 1742.' English
mining companies were said to make use of these powers
to take leases of Irish mines, so as to prevent them from
being worked, and thus retain their own monopoly/

In the early years of the eighteenth century, the coal
mines, with the possible exception of those in Tyrone,
were not woii^ed at all. In a Natural History of Ireland,
published in 1726, a reference is made to the Carlow coal-
field as then being worked, and the price of coal was
given at ninepence per Irish car. Arthur Dobbs, writing
three years later, complains that all the coal in Ireland
was then imported from Great Britain, but that coal
mines had recently been discovered in Cork and Leitrim,
and in Kilkenny, within two miles of Leighlin Bridge."
The Irish Parliament was always sedulous in
encouraging the coal mines. In 1717a premium of ;Ci,ooo
was offered for the first five hundred tons of Irish coal
landed in Dublin, but it is not certain whether this
encouragement met with any response.' Again, in 1729,
;£4,ooo was voted for the encouragement of Irish coal, but
we are told both the money and the coals were embezzled,'
In 1742, limited owners of coal mines were given power to
lease them for thirty-one years,' and the period was
extended to forty-one years in 1750.' In 1758, a premium
on Irish coal imported into Dublin of two shillings per

^ Dobh'fi TratU 0/ Ireland. 1129. * 10 Geo. I., c. 5. * ISGeo. U., c. 10.

* Madden. Rc/ieciions and Re.toltttions /or the Oenflemen of Ireland, Dublin. 1738.
'CoitZ Supf^ly Contniission. 1871. vol. iii., p. 27.

• Rallyca.stle Collieries Set in Their Proper Light. Dublin, 1733.

■^ The Cane of .Many Thousand Poor Inhabitants o/ Dublin. Dublin, 1729.
f 15 Geo. II., c. 10. 9 23Geo. II., c. 9.


ton was given/ and in 1791 a duty of a shilling per ton
was placed on all foreign coal brought into Dublin, with
the exception of coal intended for the glass, sugar and
salt manufactures/

The Ballycastle collieries had been worked from a very
early date. In 1770 some miners working there unex-
pectedly discovered a passage cut through the rock which
turned out to be part of a complete gallery, which had
been driven forward many hundred yards into the bed of
coal. It branched out into thirty-six chambers, which
were dressed quite square and in a workmanlike manner.
It was evident from tools found that the work was one of
great antiquity.' A lease of the Ballycastle collieries was
taken in 1720, and they were extensively worked till 1724,
in which year they were taken over by an English com-
pany, which carried them on for many years. This
company was succeeded by a private gentleman, who con-
tinued to work the collieries with great success, and who
procured several grants of money from the Irish Parlia-
ment, amounting altogether to ;£23,ooo, for the purpose
of forming a harbour and building a quay, but, unfor-
tunately, the pier gave way and the harbour became
useless." In 1760, English witnesses of great experience
in coal-mining thought that a hundred tons a day
might be raised from the works then open if they
were properly worked, but the proper extension of the
mines was hindered by lack of communications; and, in
that year, seven or eight thousand tons of coal were left
lying on the banks of the colliery for want of conveyances
to take them away. The mines were worked in only one
shift, and were, therefore, idle for sixteen hours a day."
In 1762, 160 colliers were constantly kept occupied in
these mines.*

The Tyrone coal-field was first discovered about 1690,
and was worked soon after that time. In 1729 there were
four collieries working in the countv — Drumglass,

1 31 Gen. II., c. 14. 2 21 and 22 Geo. III., c. 17.

8 Griffith, Survey of Coal Districts of Tyrone and Antrim. 1829. * lb.

* Ir. Corns. Jls.. vol. vi., App., p. 412. ° Jr. Corns. Jls., vol. vii.. App.. p. 125.


Gortnaskeagli, Bratkavide, and Crenagh.' In 1752, large
quantities of coal were being raised in these mines, and
a few years later several English colliers were imported
to work in them.' In 1760 there were several pits open
at Stewartstown, of which three were then being worked,
twenty tons being extracted daily from each. Drumglass
mine was also working, and one or tw^o other smaller
collieries, but they all suffered from diflficulties of
transport.' In 1770 the annual output of these mines was
estimated at 3,680 tons, which sold at the rate of six
shillings a ton.* Wakefield estimated the output of these
collieries in 1810 at about 60,000 tons annually.*

The Kilkenny coal-field was opened about 1729, when
the coal there mined was sold at sixteen pence the stand
of 5 cwt. I qr.' A traveller, in 1778, writes: — " I saw
the coal mines, which are well worth seeing; the pits are
principally at Castlecomer on the estate of Lord Wandes-
ford, who is said to clear £10,000 a year by them."'
In 1783, 10,000 tons of Kilkenny coal were sold annually
in Dublin at £2 los. a ton, but they could not be expected
to compete at this price w-ith the English coal, which
was sold at 18/-.' This difference in price was caused by
the cost of conveying the coal by land to Dublin, and it
was to lessen this cost that the Irish Parliament, in 1791,
granted yJ4,37o to the Grand Canal Company to enable
them to extend their navigation towards the Kilkenny
coal-fields. In 1800, sixteen pits were worked at Castle-
comer; the wages paid to the miners were very high ; the
colliers received 2od., the hurriers i8d., the pullers 13d.,
and the thrusters i8d. a day. The miners, however, were
a degraded class, spending all their money on spirits,
living in ruinous houses, letting their children run naked,
and living on a lower scale than the agricultural labourers

DiiWiiTlTM "" ^'^^"""'^ ^°'' Suf>t>hing Dublin v>ith Coal, by Francis Seymour,

\ y'lf^/'ve of Facts Concerning ihc Irish Collicrie.i, Dub.. 1771.

^ /. C. .lis., vol. vi., App., p. 404.

• Featherston. Tyrone Colliericx. Dub.. 1771. « I 614

7 !'"■ '^^■"f, "L?l""y Thousand Poor Inhabitants of Dublin. Dub.. 1729.

Campbell. Philoso/>hical Siinv.v of the South of Ireland. 1778.
" /. C.Jls.. vol. xi.. p. 39.


around them, who only received about a quarter their
wage.' In 1814, the Castlecomer ColHery produced
40,000 tons per year, and gave employment to 600 men."

Small pits had been worked in Co. Leitrim for a con-
siderable time, but no large pit was sunk until about
1790, when it was discovered that iron could be smelted
by means of pit coal. In order to help the iron smelting
at Arigna, the adjacent collieries were then extensively
worked.' In 1795 the Arigna coal sold at the pit mouth
at 8/8 per ton of 30 cwt. This included a royalty of 2/2
per ton, which was much larger than any royalty received
by English landowners." In 1809 the Arigna mine gave
employment to 614 men.'

In addition to the mines which we have mentioned,
and which were the principal ones, there were other small
mines worked from time to time in various parts of the
country. We hear of one on the borders of Cork and
Limerick' in 1740, and of another in the same year at Rath-
meadon, Co. Meath.' In 1765 a mine was worked at
Munterkenny, Co. Leitrim;* another in 1771 at Bally-
cuddy, Co. Galway,' and one in 1785 in County

The consequences of the neglect to work the coal
mines were very detrimental to the general prosperity
of the country. One result was that when iron came to
be smelted by means of pit coal, the Irish had to continue
to import the bulk of their iron from abroad, instead of
producing it at home. It also meant that the coal required
for the glass, salt, and provision trades had to be imported
from England, and this gave the English Parliament the
power of completely checking these manufactures at any
time by stopping the Irish coal supply. " By our neglect
in working the coal mines all our capacities in the iron
trade are narrowed, nor does it end here : it extends to
the glass manufacture, and, moreover, renders our people

1 Tighe. Statistical Observations Relating to the Co. Kilkenny, Dublin, 1802.

2 Wakefield. » /. Com. Jls., vol. xiii.. p. 142.

* Thoughts and Facts Relating to the Increase of Agriculture, by R. Griffith Dub 1795
» Wakefield, I., 614. 6 /. Com. Jls., vol. iv.. p. 332. 7 /{,., p. 524.
8 /. C. Jls.. vol. v., p. 17. lb., p. 439.
10 /. C. Jls.. vol. xi.. p. 330. See Fortescue MSS., I.. 230.

ir.'j Tin-: i-xonomic history of Ireland

dependent upon another nation for a prime necessity of
life. Want of capital is charged with this keeping our
coal mines unwrought. But part of the blame should be
attached to the spirit of jobbing by which for so many
years the redundance of the Irish treasury was lavished
in futile and abortive projects until the public mind
became so disgusted with work carried on by public
grants that at length no aid could be obtained for the most
laudable or necessary undertaking. . . . The scarcity of
fuel meant that the Irish salt could not be well boiled, and
this meant that imported salt had to be used in the herring
and provision industries. ... Of the provision trade, one
of the most essential materials is salt; and it, therefore,
lies under the same disadvantage as those manufactures
of which the raw material is foreign, and of which we
must always have a certain supply. It would be easy to
recollect how often the legislative deliberations of Ireland
have been held in suspense, while the Parliamentary
wisdom was occupied in weighing the probability whether
a certain measure would, if adopted, endanger our supply
of these important articles of salt and coal.'" Later on,
this objection applied to all manufactures. In the earlier
years of the nineteenth century, when steam came to be
universally used as the motive power in factories, Ireland
was placed at a disadvantage compared with England in
not having a home supply of coal, and this was largely the
cause of the failure of Irish industry to progress. In
addition to these many bad results, a great deal of money
was exported every year to buy English coal ; the colliers
from Whitehaven would take payment in nothing but
bullion, and this was one of the causes of the shortage
of coin which so much distressed the country throughout
the century. Moreover, the Dublin coal supply v.-as at
the mercy of strangers, and some idea of the extent of
this evil may be gathered by a glance at the innumerable
attempts made by the Irish Parliament to regulate the
many abuses which disgraced the coal trade in Dublin.

• Wallace, Manufactures of Ireland, 1798.


Next in importance to the coal mines came the copper.
The Irish Parhament gave a good deal of encouragement
to this industry. In 1783, premiums were given on Irish
manufactures of iron or copper,' and bounties were
granted in the following year.' In 1783 the mines at
Cronebane, Co. Wicklow, were encouraged by a grant
of ;C5oo, and in 1792 the Hibernian Mining Company was
incorporated to work these mines.'

The most important copper mine in Ireland was that at
Ballymurtagh, Co. Wicklow, which was opened in 1755
by Mr. Whaley, and worked very profitably.* The copper
ore in this mine was reduced to copper at Arklow, where
works for the purpose existed on a large scale, but, unfor-
tunately, the enterprise came to an end about 1805.'
Other mines were worked at Muckross, Co. Kerry,* and
at Skerries, Lackamore, and Dunally, Co. Tipperary.'
The good effect of the encouragement accorded to this
industry may be gathered from the following figures : — '

Exports of copper ore, 1783 ... 151 tons

M 1793 ••• 2,344 M

,, 1808 ... 6,869 M

The lead mines also received encouragement from
Parliament. By 36 George III., c. 2, it was provided
that no duty should be payable on lead ore exported to
Great Britain. The lead mines, however, never obtained
any great prosperity. In 1778 one was worked at Bally-
sodare, but proved a failure.' Another was opened near
Enniscorthy,'" and another at Glenmalure." Newenham
says that in 1808 lead mines were working at Lackamore
and Dunally, Co. Tipperary, and in County Donegal ; and
Wakefield mentions mines at Keady, Co. Armagh,
Dundrum and Clonlegg, County Down, Ardmore,

1 23 & 24 George n I., c. 33. 2 25 Georfie HI., c. 48. » 32 George HI., c. 24.

* Description of the Ballymurtagh Mine, by Edward Barnes, 1864.

* Statistical Sun'ey of County Wicklovp, by Robert Fra/er 1807.

8 Twiss, Tour in Ireland. 1776. '^ Newenham, View of Ireland. * Newenham.
^ Wood Martin, History of Sligo.

10 Frazer, Statistical Survey of County Wexford. Dublin. 3807.

11 Frazer, Statistical Survey of County Wicklow. Dublin, 1807.

i(;j im: hconomic history of Ireland

Co. VV^'iterford, and Old John's Bar, Co. Dublin.' The
rxports of lead ore were as follows: —

1783 ... .• ••• ••• 6 tons

1793 ... ... ••• ••■ 401 M

1808 ... ... ••• ■•■ 929 M

The only silver mines which we know of were found on
Mr. Glover's estate at Williamstown in County Kildare,
which were opened about 1760/ and another at Silver-
mines, County Tipperary, which, however, must have
ceased to work early in the century.

.Although a great deal of iron ore existed in Ireland,
it ceased to be worked about the middle of the century.
This was owing to the reckless manner in which the
timber all over the country was cut down for smelting
purposes. In the reign of Charles I. there were iron
works in Munster, Roscommon, Leitrim, Queen's Co.,
Clare, Fermanagh, and Kilkenny.' Many of these mines
were working in the early part of the century, but they
mostly were closed about 1750 to 1760, as the timber gave
out in those years.' Many attempts were made to employ
peat for smelting purposes, but apparently without
success. In 1752, ;C30o was granted by Parliament to
Robert Laney for his discovery in making malleable iron
from pig metal with turf coal,* and two years later ;£300
more was granted to him for his discovery of melting ore
into pig metal with turf coal.'

The following account of the iron manufactory in
1785 was written by Arthur Young: — "The state of the
iron-founderies in Ireland is as follows: — The principal
smelting-furnace is at Enniscorthy; its produce annually,
when at work, may be about 300 tons, chiefly of castings,
from 40 to 60 tons, of which 300 tons are pigs for the
forge. There is another of the same sort at Mountrath,
in the Queen's County; but, from the great scarcity of
charcoal, it does not work above three or four months

' Vol. i.. p. 135. « Wakefield.

4 5^"*u- ^'•'^•^■* •V"*"'-?! HLitnry. 16S1: LaflFan. Political Arithnueiic. 17&5

• Kinahan. Bconomic O«o;ofiy 0/ /r

Online LibraryGeorge Augustine Thomas O'BrienThe economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century → online text (page 14 of 38)