George Augustine Thomas O'Brien.

The economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century online

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Parliament has been already fully dealt with in a previous
chapter. It has been seen that the export of raw wool
totally ceased, and that the woollen manufacture showed
some signs of re-attaining its old prosperity ; that the
cotton manufacture grew at a very rapid pace, and in a
few years attained considerable dimensions; that the
progress of the linen manufacture was uninterrupted; that
the brewing industry was re-established in Ireland,
without, however, in any way injuring its flourishing
rivals, the distilleries ; that the glass manufacture became
a serious rival to that of England ; and that, in spite of the
greatly increased export of corn, the provision trade did
not suffer, but, on the contrary, continued to expand.
Several smaller industries also made successful progress,
and Ireland gave promise of being able soon to supply
herself with many commodities which she had previously
imported from abroad.

During the same period a notable rise in rents took
place. Arthur Young, in 1779, estimated the average
rental of Ireland at iis. an acre.' Theobald McKenna,
in his Essay on Parliamentary Reform, published in 1793,
said that the rents had tripled and often quadrupled within
the previous forty years; and Newenham, in 1809, wrote:
" Since the year 1782 the rent of land, which a short time
before that year had begun to fall in many places, has
much more than doubled in all parts of Ireland, and more
than trebled with many. ... If Mr. Young was grounded
in computing the rental of Ireland at six millions in 1778,
there can be no hesitation in stating it as upwards of
fifteen millions at present.'" In 1814, Wakefield cal-
culated the average rent per acre throughout Ireland at
£1 7S. id.'

The increase of population during these vears has been
dealt with in the first chapter of this book, where it was
pointed out that the population in 1780 was, as nearly

1 Younfi, Tour in Ireland, vol. ii., p. 16. 2 Newenham. View of Irelautl. p. 234.
" Wakefield, vol. ii., p. 234 ; see Cairne's Political Essays, p. 170.



as can be estimated, about 3,000,000, and in 1800 had
grown to almost 5,000,000. This represents an increase
of about 60 per cent, in twenty years — a much more rapid
rate than was experienced in Ireland at any previous time.
The wages of labour also increased more in the twenty
years 1780- 1800 than they had risen in the previous forty
years; in 1729 the average wage in summer was sixpence
a day and in winter fourpence;' in 1779 it was sixpence
halfpenny a day;' while in 181 1 it had risen to a shilling
a day.'

The disabilities which weighed so heavily on Catholics
were also to a large extent removed. In 1781 Catholics were
given the fullest powers of dealing with land; in the same
year certain occupations which had previously been closed
to them were opened; and in 1793 they obtained the
electoral franchise.* These relaxations had the happiest
effect on the industrial character of the people.'

, It would appear to be quite obvious from these facts
that considerable progress was made in Ireland during
the period of Grattan's Parliament. The criteria of
progress in any country during a given period have
always been the growth of industry, rise of rents, and
growth of population, and all these features of progress
were conspicuous in Ireland during the period we are
considering. The opinions of contemporaries on a matter
of this kind, however, are also of great value, and the
following quotations from contemporary speeches and
writings fully bear out the view put forw^ard that the
progress made during these years was very marked. The
flourishing state of the country was a constant matter of
congratulation in the Irish Parliament. In 1790 the
Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it was his pride and
happiness to declare that he did not think it possible for
any nation to have improved more in her circumstances
since 1784 than Ireland had done ;° and in 1795 the Address
to the King contained a reference to the " unexampled

iTJr^, ^j:'''""«- Dublin, 1729, p. 19. 2 Young's Tour. vol. ii., p. 51.
"Wakefield, vol. ii., p. 234. 4 Lecky. U., 313: HI., 1G7-8.
" See p. 36, supra. 6 i.p.D.. X., 155.


prosperity and growing resources of the nation.'" " Wliat
is the state of Ireland at this moment?" exclaimed a
member of the House of Commons in the same year, " A
state of unexampled prosperity ; the landlord gets his rent
to the hour; the tenant finds money for the produce of his
land the moment he brings it to the market ; and the
manufacturer finds employment and payment to his
satisfaction."" Perhaps the most notable tribute to the
growing prosperity of the country is to be found in
Foster's great speech against the Union: " Has Scotland
advanced as much in prosperity since the Union as Ire-
land ? The population of Scotland was one million at the
Union, and Mr. Pitt says it is a million and a half now,
but Ireland has increased hers threefold without an Union,
and Scotland only one-half with it! Why don't he refer
to their agriculture, which is peculiarly applicable to this
question, because its rise began in Ireland with the con-
stitution of 1782. It has risen since that period to the
value of full a million yearly, including the decrease of
import, the immense accession of home demand, and the
increasing export. I will take the year 1796 because Mr.
Dundas selected it, and you will find, by comparing the
imports of that year with those of 1783, the great spring
which the free constitution has given to trade and com-
merce. The general export rose in 78 years to 1782 from
I to 5, and in 14 years after 1782 from 5 to 10. The linen
export in the 78 years rose from i to 32, and in the last
14 from 32 to 88 ; so that the general export rose as much
in the past 14 years as it had done during the preceding
78 years, and linen exports trebled in that time.'"

The pamphlets which were written for and against the
Union in 1799 are full of references to the same subject.
"The increase of civilisation," says one, " the extension
of manufacture, the progress of the fine arts, was never so
rapid in any country as this " ;' and we find the statement
in another that " Commerce has of late years increased

1 I.P n.. XV.. 155. a I.P.D.. XV., 168.

s Foster's Sf^eech on Union. 11th April. 1799.

* Letter to Theobald McKenna, Dublin. 1779.


Online LibraryGeorge Augustine Thomas O'BrienThe economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century → online text (page 34 of 38)