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The Irish Post Office was placed on an independent
footing in 1784.' The rates charged for the carriage of
letters were twopence for any distance under fifteen miles,
threepence for any distance between fifteen and thirty
miles, and fourpence for a greater distance. There was

1 23 & 24 Geo. MI., c. 17.


a penny postal service set up for the district within a
radius of four miles from the G.P.O., Dublin. An early
attempt to communicate by telegraph was made by
Richard Lovell Edgeworth in 1794.'

> CharJemont Correspondence, II.. 287; Trans. R.I.A., vol.



AS we have seen when deahng with the Industrial
Revolution, the latter half of the eighteenth century-
was remarkable in England for the rapid growth of a
number of great industrial towns. No corresponding
movement took place in Ireland, where the rate of
growth in urban population did not, with one con-
spicuous exception, exceed that of population in the whole
country, and where, towards the end of the century, the
chief feature was an unprecedented increase of the smalE
farmer class. As we have also seen, the commercial
restraints, imposed on Irish trade by the English Parlia-
ment, had the effect of crushing Ireland industrially; in.
the absence of a foreign market, it was impossible to
achieve large scale production in any manufacture, and
the greater part of the population was driven for support
to the soil.

The absence of flourishing and successful industries,
which was so prominent a feature of the " period of
restriction " in Ireland, prevented the existence of any
large industrial towns. The country, on the whole, drew
its livelihood from agricultural pursuits of one kind or
another, either pasture or tillage, and the only economic
function of the country towns was to serve as centres of
distribution, where the farmers and graziers might dispose
of their products and purchase such few commodities as
they did not manufacture themselves. The only cities
which had anything approaching an industrial life of their


own were Dublin, Cork, and, at a later date, Belfast.
Dublin was chiefly employed in the pursuit of such
remnants of the wool industry as English legislation had
permitted to survive; a comparatively flourishing silk
manufacture also provided employment in the metropolis ;
Cork was busily engaged in the preparation of provisions
for foreign markets; while the principal manufactures
which employed Belfast towards the end of the century
were those of cotton and linen.

In 1776, Young recorded that " the towns of Ireland
have very much increased in the last twenty years,"* but
we have no reason to suppose that the towns increased
at a greater rate than the population of Ireland as a
whole. In England at that date the towns were
increasing, whereas the rural population was decreasing,
or, at least, stationary ; this was, of course, the direct
result of the introduction of improved methods of
manufacture. No such improved methods, generally
speaking, were introduced into Ireland until the very end
of the eighteenth or beginning of the nineteenth century,
with one exception — namely, in the cotton manufacture.
The seat of this one exceptional industry was Belfast,
and this was the one town in Ireland which showed the
symptoms of an abnormal increase of population towards
the end of the eighteenth century.

As we have said, the chief feature of the Irish town
was that it acted as a centre of distribution, and in this
capacity it probably took away from more than, it added
to the economic eflficiency of the country. Dobbs, in his
Essay on the Trade of Ireland, complained that the
cultivation of flax was hindered by the exorbitant profits
made by the retail dealers in flax-seed ; here we see the
root of an evil which has persisted to the present time, and
which, to some extent, has been remedied in recent
years by the application of the principles of co-operation.
Every article, moreover, which was sold in the market of
a country town in Ireland w^as burdened with the payment

1 Tour, vol. ii., p. 254.


of exorbitant tolls and market dues/ often amounting to
five or six per cent, of the value of the purchase." In 1763
Parliament provided that all articles connected with linen
and cotton should be exempt from these tolls.' The fruit-
fulness of these tolls secured that the inhabitants of the
corporate towns were free from all local taxation, but
agriculture was depressed, and the price of farm produce

The industrial progress of the Irish towns was
undoubtedly impeded by the Penal Laws, which excluded
the Catholics from all corporate life. Indeed, Catholics
were excluded from Limerick and Galway altogether, and
they were not admitted to the trade guilds in any other
town.* In addition to being excluded from the guilds,
they were burdened with the payment of an illegal duty
called quarterage, which went to the support of the very
guilds from which they were themselves excluded. This
was an imposition similar to that with which the Jews
were fettered in Germany and Sicily.* Indeed, the position
of the Catholics was in more ways than this somewhat
parallel to that of the Jews in mediaeval Europe. Excluded
from all useful industry, they betook themselves to unpro-
ductive occupations, and many of them attained to riches
in the character of merchants. They were debarred by law
from the purchase of land, and consequently from in-
vesting their savings in the one safe security which the
country offered at that time; and, therefore, were driven
to lending their money to their necessitous neighbours on
poor security, and at a high rate of interest. No doubt,
this was the origin of the gombeen-man of later years,
the small Catholic trader, who was also a usurer.'

But even the retail trade of the country town never
grew to any large proportions; the small farmers and
cottiers were to a very great extent self-supporting in the

1 Considerations an Consideraiious. Dublin, 1724.

2 Select Committee on Tolls and Customs, 1826. =* 3 Geo. MI., c. 34.
* Scully, Penal Laws, c. iii. * Wyse, Catholic Association, I., 85.

6 Arkins, The Commercial Aspect of the Irish Penal Code. " Studies." June, 1911:
Charlemont MSS.. I., 45: Madden, Reflections and Resolutions, Dublin. 1738:
Newenham, p. 190.


sense that they were accustomed to make most of what they
wanted in their own homes, and had not yet reached the
stage of looking to shops to provide them with their
requirements.' The rapid growth of towns was further
prevented by the exceedingly high rents which were
demanded for urban dwellings. Many of the Irish towns
were the property of a single landlord, who was, there-
fore, in a position to demand monopoly prices for his
land. The rents in some country towns in Ireland were
higher than in London ; in Roscrea, for example,
moderate-sized houses were let at two hundred pounds a

It must not be concluded that, because some of
thq country towns contained comparatively large and
dense populations, they were, therefore, useful or
productive economic communities. The better class
in such towns was frequently composed of a crowd
of drunken idlers, usually middlemen f while the lower
class generally contained an altogether disproportionate
number of beggars." " What spoils the figure and
appearance of the much greater number of even the
larger towns in Ireland," wrote an English traveller in
1764, " is the generality of dirty entrances to them, and
the long strings of despicable huts or cabins that most

of them are prefaced with The inland towns

especially, into which you are introduced through a line
of fifty or a hundred of these habitations of poverty or
oppression on either hand "*

The industrial wealth of Dublin centred in the woollen
industry, and, of course, the suppression of the export of
woollens dealt a heavy blow at the metropolis. Whatever
remnants of the wool manufacture survived during the
earlier part of the eighteenth century tended to become
localised in Dublin ; and although this, no doubt,
benefited the city, it was probably detrimental to the
progress of the industry owing to the spirit of combination

' D'Israeli, Li/e of Lord G. Bentiiick, p. 352. 2 Wakefield, vol. II., pp. 246, 307.
3 Newenham on Pofiulation, p. 233. * Benn, History of Belfast, p. 596.
' Bush. Hibernia Curiosa.



which was so rife amongst the city journeymen.' Drink
also played an important part in weakening the industrial
value of the Dublin workman.' The only other industry
that achieved any eminence in Dublin was the silk
industry. The high price of provisions and the insuffi-
ciency of housing accommodation rendered Dublin an
unsuitable centre for the growth of industry ; about the
middle of the century keen distress was frequently
experienced, but substantial relief was provided by the
Act granting bounties on the inland carriage of corn.
After the establishment of Grattan's Parliament, Dublin
increased in wealth, and assumed the true aspect of a
metropolis, but the progress in this direction was rather
social and political than industrial, and does not concern
us here.^ Indeed, the tendency of this period was to
remove the wool industry into the country parts, and
Parliament, as we have seen, granted large sums of public
money to achieve this object."' It is customary in recent
years to attribute the prevalence of the terrible tenement
house system to the passing of the Act of Union, but, as
a matter of fact, this system had grown into a very
serious evil during the last years of the eighteenth cen-
tury.' The following figures, which only pretend to be
approximate, indicate the growth of Dublin during the
eighteenth century : —






Whitelaw and Walsh



Webb, Industrial Dublin



Whitelaw and Walsh






Campbell, Philosophical Survey



Whitelaw and Walsh

In 1652, Boate placed Cork fifth amongst the Irish
towns arranged in order of importance, but it rapidly

1 Supra. Chapter V. 2 Si«/>ra, Chapter IV. » Lecky, II.. p. 493.

* 25 Geo. III., c. 48 : 27 Geo. III., c. 13. etc.

* Whitley Stokes, Project for the Restoration of Internal Tranquillity in Ireland.
Dublin. 1799.


grew in numbers and in wealth, and throughout the
eighteenth century was always looked on as the second
city in Ireland. In 1775, according to Campbell, it was
twice as big as Limerick, which, in 1650, had surpassed
it in size.' In 1750 the population of Cork was assessed
at 70,000;' and in 1810 it numbered 80,000 people." The
great prosperity of Cork was due directly to the pro-
vision industry, of which it was the chief centre. In
1748 it was said that nearly a hundred thousand bullocks
were killed in the city every year between August and
Christmas;* and some years later Bush described the
provision trade which he saw carried on as "prodigious."'
"Cork," wrote Arthur Young in 1776, "is one of the
most populous places I have ever been in. It was market
day, and I could scarcely drive through the streets, they
were so amazingly thronged ; on the other days the
number is very great."* The average exports from the
port amounted to over a million pounds.'

Limerick also derived a good deal of profit from the
provision trade. The population, which in 1760 was
assessed at 25,000,* had increased in 1775 to 30,000,' and
in 1821 to 66,000.'° " Here are docks, quays, and a
custom-house," said Arthur Young. " . . . . This port
of Limerick carries all the marks of a flourishing place.""

Waterford was an important centre of the fishing
industry, and was also the seat of several small manu-
factures." Galway, on the other hand, presented the
spectacle of a decaying tow^n, in which all enterprise was
dying out, and all commerce languishing. Although, in
Boate's time, it had been reckoned the second city in
Ireland, in 1762 it only contained 14,000 inhabitants."

Boate remarked that Belfast was, in 1650, hardly com-
parable with an English market town, and in 1725 it
was low amongst the tow^ns of Ireland." Towards the

^Philosophical Sun'ey. ^Smith,HistoryofCork.l.,A01. 8 Townsend, Surrey o/ Cor*.
A Tour Through Ireland by Two English Gentlemen, London, 1748: Smith.
History of Cork, I., 410.

Hihernia Curiosa. 1764. 6 Totir, vol. i.. p. 332. ^ /ft. 8 Lecky. I., 343.
Fitzgerald & .McGreRor. History of Limerick. 10 Ih. " Tour, I.. 292.
IS u "I?- ^'""' '■'* Ireland. I., 406-7 : Smith, History of Waterford.
■ H.-irdiman. History of Oalway. l< Dobbs, Trade of Ireland, 1729.


end of the eighteenth century, however, the population
of Belfast increased very rapidly; from 8,549 in 1757 to
13,105 in 1782; 18,320 in 1791 ; and 27,832 in 1813/
As we have already explained, this is accounted for by
the success of the linen, and still more, of the cotton
manufactures. The next most important towns after those
we have mentioned were Londonderry, Kilkenny, Wex-
ford, Drogheda, and Dundalk.'

1 Benn, History of Belfast.

2 Cotnmission on Municipal Corporations in Ireland, 18i5.

Local Taxation and Poor Laws.

IN addition to the burdens which the people had to
bear in the form of general taxation, they were also
oppressed by very high local taxes. The local govern-
ment of Ireland in the eighteenth century outside the
corporate towns was in the hands of the Grand Juries.
These bodies were necessarily unrepresentative, as they
were drawn only from the propertied class. This meant
that, whereas Catholics were not legally ineligible to
serve as jurymen, they were practically excluded from
the juries owing to their disabilities connected with
property. The Grand Juries had very extensive powers,
and were enabled by Parliament to make presentments
for a great many different purposes — for making new
roads, repairing and ironing old roads, for the upkeep of
bridges and drains, for compensation for malicious damage,
for rewards for the conviction of offenders, for fines on
parishes where illicit stills were found, for the diocesan
schools, for the payment of high and petty constables.
Clerks of the Crown and Peace, and for the erection and
upkeep of court-houses, jails, and houses of correction.'
The whole of the assessment levied for this purpose
was paid by the actual occupier of the soil, and no part
by the landlord or middleman. This was a grave injus-
tice, as the occupier was also burdened with the payment
of high rent and tithes. Moreover, the assessment was

^A CoUeclion of the Statutes now in /orcein Ireland which Concern all Grand
Juries. Dublin, 1789.


made on the area of a holding, and not on its value, so
)that the tenant of a farm of poor boggy land had to
pay the same as the tenant of a farm of the same size of
rich cultivated land.' Parliament made several attempts
to remedy this injustice," but without any result, as the
Grand Juries neglected to perform the duties assigned
to them.^ Certain of the assessments were authorised to
be levied on the Catholic inhabitants of a district
exclusively. The large sums raised by the Grand Juries
were largely spent in jobbery and corruption: "It is
well known over most parts of the country what use is
made by Grand Juries of the powers given them to levy
cess for making roads and bridges. Jobs upon jobs, the
one more infamous than the other, serve to support the
interest of some rich men in the country.'" Another
ground of complaint arose from the exorbitant expenses
incurred in the administration of county business, which
was chiefly caused by the fact that the county officers were
paid by emoluments and not by salaries.' The dis-
turbances which were caused for so many years by
the Oakboys were provoked in the first instance by the
oppression which the people suffered under at the hands
of the Grand Juries. The people were forced to contri-
bute their personal labour to the making of roads, and it
was felt as a great injustice that their labour should be
often requisitioned for the making of roads which were
of no use to the county, and which were merely a con-
venience or an ornament to the residences of the Grand
Jurymen or their friends.

In 1772 the amount raised by the Grand Juries was
calculated at ;£i3o,ooo;' in 1779 it was put at ;;Cho»ooo.'
" The arbitrary cess of the Grand Juries is a lamentable
grievance, and falls heavier on the poor than any checks

1 Arthur O'Connor, State of Ireland. 1798 ; Wakefield. I.. 662.

29 Anne, c.9: 1 Geo. II.. c. 13: 33 Geo. II.. c. 8.

8 Select Cotniniftee on Orand Jury Presentments in Ireland, 1815.

^ Letter quoted at Lecky, vol. ii.. p. 49 ; Froude, II., 126.

8 Select Committee on Grand Jury Presentments in Ireland. 1815. App. 3: Thouchis
and Suggestions on Imt>rovinH Cnnditinn of Irish Peasantry, by R. Bellew
London, 1808. « Lecky. vol. II., p. 49.

'' Hely Hutchinson, Commercial Restrictions of Ireland, p. 75.


imposed by tlie Government.'" In 1787 the oppression
by the (irand Juries was said to be one of the main causes
of the spread of Whiteboyism : " Do we know not that
among the real grievances of the distressed peasantry of
this country, the shameful and prodigal grants of their
money by the rural thanes of their county to those most
abandoned miscreants, the perjured road-makers, bridge-
makers, and affidavit men, is one of the most crying and
most notorious?'" In 1791 the amount of the cess was
estimated at ;{;250,ooo.' In 1795 it had risen to ;{;30o,ooo
per annum," and in 1798 it was stated to have been tripled
within the previous few years/ At the time of the Union
it was estimated at ;^47o,ooo a year/

In the corporate towns there was usually no necessity
for the raising of a revenue by means of taxation, as the
majority of the corporations were the owners of con-
siderable property. Indeed, as a rule, there was a surplus
remaining over at the end of the year, which w^as usually
dissipated by the members of the corporation in fes-
tivities. Another source of income possessed by the Irish
towns was furnished by the tolls and market fees that
w^ere charged. Thus the farmers from the surrounding
country contributed to the upkeep of the county by their
payment of county cess, and to the upkeep of the towns
by their payment of tolls on market days.'

Until the nineteenth century there was no system in
Ireland, with a few local exceptions, corresponding to the
English Poor Law. No doubt, this difference was due,
in the first place, to the disturbed and unsettled state of
Ireland at the time that the English Poor Law was intro-
duced, and, later, " differences of race and religion and
other unfavourable causes united to prevent the growth
of that orderly gradation of classes, and that sympathy
between one class and another w^hich exists in every well-

1 Some Observations on Ireland by a Member of the Dublin Society, Dublin, 1779.

2 Considerations on Present Disturbances, by D. Trant, Dublin, 1787.
^ Clarendon, Rex'enues of Ireland, p. 90.

* Thoughts and Facts relating to the Increase of Agriculture, by R. Griffith, Dublin,
1795. 6 Arthur O'Connor, State of Ireland, 1798.

* Comtnission on State of Poor in Ireland, 1830.
'' Webb, Irish Municipal Government, p. 203.


conditioned community.'" There were several statutes
of the Irish ParHament providing punishment for vaga-
bonds and beggars wiio were able to work, but there was
no provision for the relief of the genuinely needy and
deserving poor.

In 1 710 an Act was passed/ for the erecting of a
workhouse in the City of Dublin, and for maintaining the
poor thereof. This Act created a corporation of governors
and guardians of the poor to " relieve and set at work
all vagabonds and beggars, and provide necessaries for
them," arrest and bring up children under five found
begging, and to apprentice them out when they grew up.
Power was given to raise money by licences for hackney
coaches and sedan chairs and by a tax on houses. In
1715 power was given to the ministers and church wardens
in all parts of the country to apprentice children found
begging. '' In 1735 an Act was passed providing a work-
house for Cork on the same lines as the one in Dublin,
and for the relief of foundling children,^ and provision
was made for the sending of Dublin children to the Cork
hospital, and vice versa, so that they might be separated
from their parents, and saved from the danger of being
brought up as Papists.' The " explanation of the fact
that institutions of this kind were found necessary for the
cities before they were for the country is that Dublin and
Cork were flooded wath beggars who congregated there
from all the country districts, and it was absolutely essen-
tial for the peace of the cities that some means of
employing and supporting these vagrants should be pro-
vided. No similar institution was provided for Belfast, but
the bane of travelling beggars became so great that the
citizens in 1757 established a workhouse by voluntary con-
tributions on the same lines as those in Dublin and Cork.'"

In 1 77 1 the Foundling Hospital and the workhouses
in Dublin were separated/ and in the same year provision

1 Nicholls, History of the Irish Poor Law, p. 13.

2 2Annc. c. 19. 3 2 Geo. I., c. 17. •" 9 Geo. U.. c. 25. » Lccky, I.. 231.
6 Benn, History 0/ Belfast, p. 596. ^ H & 12 Geo. III., c. 11.


was made for the relief of foundling children in the other
cities of Ireland,' a provision which was extended to the
whole of Ireland two years later.'

In 1 77 1 a statute was passed which, had it been acted
upon, might have provided a satisfactory system for the
relief of the poor, but the powers given were voluntary,
and were not generally used. By this Act, corporations
were appointed in every county and city with power to
badge the poor and to license them to beg, and, as soon
as they had suflficient funds, to build hospitals to be called
workhouses, or houses of industry, divided into four sec-
tions for the relief of (i) poor helpless men, (2) poor
helpless women, (3) men able to labour, and (4) women
able to labour. The Grand Juries of every county were
authorised to present from ;{i2oo to ;i{i400 towards the
erection of these houses of industry, and the Grand Juries
of cities to present from ;^ioo to ;^20o for the same
purpose. This Act was a failure, partly because it was
not compulsory on the corporations to apply it, and partly
because the funds provided were insufficient. In 1830
only twelve houses of industry had been built under the
Act — eight in Munster, three in Leinster and one in

Provision was made for the relief of the sick poor in
1765* when the clergy of the established church were
created a perpetual corporation for the erection of
infirmaries, and the Grand Juries were authorised to
present from £$0 to ^^loo for this purpose;* fever hos-
pitals were also erected in some places by special Acts of
Parliament.* No provision seems to have been made for
lunatics until after the Union, although Grand Juries
were authorised in 1787 to present a small sum for insane
wards in the county infirmaries. °

It has been said that the absence of a Poor
Law was not such a hardship on the poor as

> 11 & 12 Geo. HI., c. 15. 2 13 & 14 Geo. III., c. 24.

8 Commission on the Sfate of the Poor in Ireland, 1830. * 5 Geo. III., c. 20.

» Commission on the State of the Poor in Ireland. 1830.

» Commission on the Poor of Ireland, 1804.


might be imagined, as the evils of the English Poor
Law were so great that its absence was rather an
advantage than the reverse, and the Irish Parliament was
accustomed to make large grants for the support of
charitable institutions, and in time of distress for the
direct relief of the sufferers.' But on the other side it
may be said that a Poor Law like the English would have
prevented much of the destitution that undoubtedly
existed. In England the landholder was bound to the
support of the poor of his parish ; and one of the results of
extreme poverty among the poor was to increase the poor
rate payable by the landholder. " To the people living on
the soil," said Isaac Butt, "it is impossible to conceive a

Online LibraryGeorge Augustine Thomas O'BrienThe economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century → online text (page 32 of 38)