George Augustine Thomas O'Brien.

The economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century online

. (page 9 of 38)
Online LibraryGeorge Augustine Thomas O'BrienThe economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century → online text (page 9 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Expenses and Receipts of a Cottar Family.






£ s.


Cabbin and one acre,

Two pigs




On average of years the

Two cows


two cows will yield

One stone of broken

three calves in two





Weaving it ...




Weaving their linen ...


Hire 365 days

Hearth money


52 Sundays



15 holidays

Tithe of one acre


20 bad weather

Hire of half an acre

48 sickness and

potatoes ...



their own
i.e., 230 days at 5d.

4 16

£9 11




Remains for unspeci-
fied articles ... £1 11

The following two budgets are taken from pamphlets
written some years later than Young's book. The first is
from Thoughts on State of Cottiers (Dublin), i'/g4, and
the second from An Account of the Parish of Aghahoe,
by Ledwich (Dublin), ifg6: —


Expenses. £ s. d.


£ s. d.

House and garden (half Wages at 6d. a day for

acre) ... ... 1 10 one half year and 5d.

Grazing one cow ... 1 10 the other ... ...7 3

7 cwt. of meal at 15s. Potatoes, computed at 3

the cwt. ... ... 5 5 Milk of his cow ...2

jes 5

£12 3 6

Leaving a balance of £S 18s. 6d.
for all other expenses.

1 Young's Tour in Ireland, vol. ii., p. 47.




^.'. 3 U Works 220 days at 6d. 5 10

g,|, ,„r „ cow ::: l :0 O i.,od_uce of 2 ace gar- ^ ^ ^

S,,:^,K.,bs.n,8d, ::: 0^8 8 A^PJ^^ ^„,, ■;; ;; 1100

ri-ViK,..c fnr'self and Two of his family spin

family . 7 2 4 for 260 days at Id. ... 6 10

Tithe •• ■0 6 6

£14 6 £20 12

"To such a State," says an English contemporary
writer, *' has England reduced Ireland, that out of two
and a half million inhabitants she contains, not above one
million are said to be so employed as to get more than the
merest subsistence; they go half naked, and the few
clothes they wear are of coarse manufacture made at home,
and worse than the dress of Indians. They are as ill-
lodged as the hogs in England; and as to furniture, it
consists of a few rushes or heath for a bed, a horn spoon,
and an iron pot.'" " The Irishman feeds the cattle whose
flesh he is debarred from taking. As to clothes, he has
scarcely any; as for habitation, he has, perhaps, some
miserable hovel where an Englishman would not turn his
beast.'" " Behold," says Crumpe, " the Irish husband-
man sallv forth to his work; barefoot and covered with
rags; behold his ruinous hovel, covered w'ith weeds, and
pervious to every shower that falls and every pinching gale
that blows. Behold him seated after a hard day's labour,
involved in smoke, surrounded by a naked offspring, and
sharing with them his dry and scanty meal.'"

On the whole, the cottiers seem to have been in a
wretched state, living on the margin of subsistence.
They seem to have been much poorer than they were in
the previous century, when Petty described their condition
as follows: "The housing is, as hath been often said,
very wretched, but their clothing far better than that of

' Prot>ricty of ExietuUng Trade to Ireland, by A.S., London, 1780.

' Mr. Cirdincr's Speech in the Irish House of Commons, 4th April, 1784.

"Crumpe. Essay on Providing Emf'lnymcnt, 1793. p. 225: and see Thoughts on
Tillage / Ireland. London. 1737 : Four Letters Relating to the Kingdom of Ireland,
Dublin. 1739 : and Bell's Description of the Irish Peasantry. London, 1804.


the French peasants or the poor of other countries : which
advantage they have from their wool. Madder, alum, and
indigo are imported, but the other dyeing stuffs they find
nearer home, a certain mud taken out of bogs serving
them for copperas, a rind of several trees and saw-dust for
galls: as for wild green weeds, they find enough. The
diet of these people is milk sweet and sour, thick and
thin, which also is their drink in summer time, in winter
small beer or water. But tobacco taken in short pipes,
seldom burnt, seems the pleasure of their lives, together
with sneezing. Their food is bread in cakes, potatoes from
August to May, mussels, cockles, and oysters near the
sea, eggs and butter made very rancid by keeping in bogs ;
as for flesh, they seldom eat it.'" The lot of the cottier
was worse in the South than in the North, as the cottiers
in the North were almost all engaged in the linen manu-
facture, and were thus enabled to supplement their

This downward tendency was aggravated by the ever-
increasing extension of pasture at the expense of tillage.
According as more land was wanted for grazing, the
number of people who could be employed in a district
became less and less, and the little cottier homesteads,
such as they were, were broken up and the cottier driven
to a still lower rank of life. " Their houses and cabins,"
says Dobbs, " being generally made of earth or dry stone,
there is little difference in the expense or time employed
in the erecting or demolishing of them ; and this is done
just as gentlemen incline to heap up their lands and
improve them by tillage, or as they lay them down under
grass and enlarge their sheep walks and grazing farms;
and by this means the poor, who remove w-ith little
trouble, are turned adrift, and must remove to some other
place where they can get employment.'" The wretched
people would seem actually to have been employed to''")' ^^^ country landlords
giving' all assistance except money and victuals to drive
from their estates those miserable creatures they have
undone.'" As early as 1726 the number of beggars in
Cork was noticed as a nuisance, and in 1762 a reference
is found to " the foreign beggars and strollers who come
from the country and infest the city.'" Dublin also was
greatly harassed by the swarms of beggars that flocked in
from the country.' Dobbs draws a dreadful picture of
the beggars in 1729: — "Another evil very necessary to
be remedied is the idleness of our poor. The hurt this
kingdom suffers from the number of idle and sturdy
vagrants is greater than is commonly imagined. They
appear in various forms, mostly affected or brought upon
them by particular stratagems, as blind, lame, dumb, dis-
torted, with running sores, pretended fits and other
disorders. They exercise the greatest barbarities upon
children, either their own or those they pick up, by
blinding them or breaking or disjointing their limbs when
they are young to make them objects of charity and com-
passion. Not to mention the robberies and thefts they
commit, and the lewdness, debauchery, and drunkenness
that is to be found amongst them at their merrv-meetings.
We may compute the number of strolling beggars in the
Kingdom at 34,000. . . . Since the trade of begging has
become so general, it has been known that servants have
quit their service and have gone a-strolling with them,
and day labourers have quit their labour and refused to
be employed, giving it as a reason that they get more by
begging than by working."* Irish publications of the
eighteenth century are full of allusions to the beggars,
who seem to have formed an important section of societv.'
It was remarkable, however, that Arthur Young, who was

' Cottsiderafiona About Maintaining th< Poor.

» Council Book o/ Cork Corf>oraiion. 9 Nov.. 1726, and 8 Jan., 1762.

» RosborouRh. Observatiotis on State of Poor in Mitrotolis, Dublin. 1801.

* Dohhs. Trade of Irtland.and see Eierkeley. " The Querist."
^*^i. i"'""'^'o"'^'^'"*'" ■' Dublin. 17?3: The Surf>rising Memoirs of the Meeting
bX.;^"'w" 1:7''''' °"'S' """"^""^ Adventures of the Most Renowned of CrippL
nffhi'in i7ii o'^t I"'* "'^ S rH«,MMyfH/.;u,. Dublin, 1754: Necessity of Tillage,
Dublin. 1741 ; Berkeley s Querist.' .»»»••«««,


gifted with a particularly keen sense of observation, makes
no reference to the existence of beggars in his Tour.

A series of statutes beginning in the reign of Henry VI.
had prohibited begging, and visited convicted beggars
with many heavy penalties, such as whipping, imprison-
ment, and the stocks ; idle vagrants were, moreover,
condemned to transportation.' These statutes were, how-
ever, not enforced, and begging was allowed to flourish
without any interference on the part of the law.^

»25 Henry VI., c. 7; 33 Henry VIII., c. 9; 3 & 4 P. and M., c. 5 : 6 Anne. c. 11; U & 12
Geo. 111., c. 30.
* Commission on State of Poor in Ireland, 1830.


THE existence of such a large population on the verge
of starvation meant that if any failure of the crops,
especially the potato crop, occurred, the country was
immediately menaced with famine: "We scarce have a
bad season that is not followed by a famine among the
common people, which never fails to drive a multitude
of our best hands out of the kingdom to seek their bread
in foreign climes.'" To give particular dates as the
occasions of famine years is, to some extent, to create
a wrong impression of the Irish situation, the truth being
that the country lived in a chronic state approaching
famine, and that the particular years which are mentioned
by historians as famine years were simply the years in
which the chronic symptoms became acute. The author
of the Groans of Ireland (Dublin, 1741), thought that the
prime cause of this state of affairs was the want of
granaries in the country; a particularly bad year increased
the quantity of tillage in the following year; the result
was a surplus in that year, a fall in prices, and a conse-
quent neglect to till in the year after; there were, there-
fore, alternating years of too much and too little food,
and it was said that the erection of granaries for storing
the surplus grain of the good years would have solved the
difTiculty. However, in spite of the many requests for
granaries, none were ever erected, and the countrv suffered
severely in consequence.

' Thoughts on Tillage of Ireland. London. 1737 : sec Mitchell. History of Ireland, ch. ix.


In 1727 began the first acute famine, of wliich
contemporary writers give the most harrowing accounts.
The early stages of the distress were described by
Primate Bouker in March as follows: — "Last year
the dearness of corn was such that thousands of
families quitted their habitations to seek bread else-
where, and many hundreds perished ; this year the poor
had consumed their potatoes, which is their winter sub-
sistence, near two months sooner than ordinary, and are
already, through the dearness of corn, in that want, that
in some places they begin already to quit their
habitations.'" It was this famine which impelled Swift
to write his " modest proposal " that the children of poor
people should be eaten. In that pamphlet he gives a
terrible description of the condition of the country. " Some
persons," he says, " of a desponding spirit are in great
concern about that vast number of poor people, who are
aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have been desired to
employ my thoughts what course may be taken, to ease
the nation of so grievous an encumbrance. But I am not
in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well
known that they are every day dying, and rotting, by
cold, and famine, and filth, and vermin, as fast as can be
reasonably expected. And as to the younger labourers,
they are now in almost as hopeful a condition. They
cannot get work, and consequently pine away for want of
nourishment, to a degree, that if at any time they are acci-
dentally hired to common labour, they have not strength
to perform it ; and thus the country and themselves are
happily delivered from the evils to come." " The
calamities of the year 1728," says another writer, "are
still fresh in our memory: when many of the poorer sort
in the Northern parts who were not able to fly from the
famine perished in it, and died in their native country
through want of food."' An attempt was made to relieve
some of the distress in the North by a body of charitable
people in Dublin, who set on foot a subscription to buy

' Boulicr'a Letters, vol. i., p. 226. ^ Thoughts on the Tillage of Ireland. London, 1737.


corn in Munster when it was cheap, and to send it to the
North, hut the inhahitants of Munster took alarm at so
much food ^u'ln^ away, and assembled to prevent its
removal at Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Clonmel.'
Matters cannot be said ever to have really mended after
this famine: for the next ten or fifteen years the country
suffered from a severe and almost continuous shortage.
There was a greater shortage than usual in 1733, but the
years were tided over without acute loss of life until the
period following the great frost at the end of 1739. Lecky
says that although this famine has scarcely left a trace in
history, and hardly excited any attention in England at
the time, it was one of the most fearful upon record."
Bishop Berkeley wrote, in May, 1741 : " The distresses
of the sick and poor are endless : the havoc of mankind in
the counties of Cork, Limerick, and adjacent places has
been incredible. The nation will not recover this loss in
a century. The other day I heard from the County of
Limerick, that whole villages were entirely dispeopled.'"
Skelton, a Protestant clergyman, tells us that as many
people died of want, or of diseases occasioned by want,
during the two years 1 740-1, as died by the sword in the
massacre and rebellion of 1641 : " Whole parishes were
almost desolate, the dead were eaten in the fields by dogs :
one thousand had perished in a single barony.'" In
County Kerry the number of families paying hearth
money in 1733 was over 14,000: in 1744 it had sunk to a
little over 9,000.* Contemporary waiters give terrible
accounts of the distress : " Families are without a spooaful
of meal between them for some weeks, and that not such
as are reckoned the very poor."* " On my return to this
country last summer. T found it the most miserable scene
of universal distress that I have ever read of in history;
want antl misery in every face; the rich unable almost, if
they were willing, to relieve the poor; the roads spread
with dead and dying bodies. Mankind of the colour of the

t noultfr- gutters. I.. 2J0. S Lecky. vol. i.. p. 186.

• Frazcr. Life of Berkeley, p. 255. ^ SkelionS Works, vol. v.. p 352
Ucky. vol. ... p. 188. 6 Distressed State of Ireland. Dublin, 1741


docks and nettles which they feed on : two or three, some-
times more, on a car going to the grave for want of bearers
to carry them. . . . The loss must be upwards of two hun-
dred thousand souls.'" " By a modest computation there
are near one-third part of the cottiers of Munster have
perished by fevers, fluxes and downright want.'" " 'Tis
well known that multitudes of poor families have been
under great difficulty to subsist, and many of their lives
but barely preserved, and that very much by the corn
which they gathered for food through the summer in the
fields : and what rendered their case more pinching was the
scarcity of milk.'"'

Of course, there were to be found people who attributed
the famine to the anger of God. There is an interesting
pamphlet in the Royal Irish Academy, entitled. On the
Judgment of God upon Ireland, or Sickness and Famine
God's Visitation for the Sins of the Nation, dated 1741,
in which the writer argues that the famine was a punish-
ment for the toleration, such as it was, of Popery. Thus,
even in moments of distress and misery, there are ever
people to be found whose bigotry gets the better of their

Although no famine at all approaching in severity
that of 1 741 occurred throughout the remainder of the
century, there were periodical shortages of food and great
consequent distress. In 1757 the potato crop again
failed, and the suffering amongst the poor was very great.
The situation was rendered worse by a shortage of corn
at the same time.^ The potato crop and the spring corn
failed once more in 1765, and the country was threatened
with another famine, but the distress was prevented from
becoming acute by the action of Parliament prohibiting
the exportation of corn and stopping the distilleries.*
The year 1770 was also one of scarcity,* but it is
useless to detail the recurring symptoms of a chronic

1 The Groans of Ireland. Dublin, 1741. 2 Letter to the Lord Primate, Dublin, 1741.
3 Disturbed State of Ireland. Dublin. 1740.

■* I.CJ., vol. X., p. 15. Proposal for Lessening Present Excessive Price of Bread Corn
in Ireland. Dublin, 1757; Wilson, Hints for Erecting County Granaries. Dublin, 1757.
6Wakefield.ii.,10. ^Ibid.

lot; nil': pxonomic history of Ireland

disease; the whole matter may be summed up in the words
of liely Hutchinson: "The bulk of our people have
always continued poor, and in a great many seasons have
wanted food." The century was closed by a year of
famine. The harvest of 1800 turned out very unfavour-
ably : the potato crop was a failure, and the yield of wheat
and oats was not half the ordinary average ; and the
country passed through another period of great distress.'

• Mulholland. Ireland and her Stable Industry, p. 203.


The Struggle Between Pasture and Tillage.

THE two great divisions of agricultural activity are
pasture and tillage. The whole agricultural state of
a country depends on which of these is predominant;
where tillage prevails, the population of the countryside
tends to increase and the industry of the people is
encouraged ; on the other hand, where pasture predomi-
nates, large tracts are converted into grazing, and
the human inhabitants are driven to extreme poverty or
emigration. The climate and quality of the soil have
always favoured pasture in Ireland, and in the first eighty
years of the eighteenth century this natural tendency was
accentuated by many outside causes. The two things
most requisite for a people anxious to advance in agricul-
ture are skill and capital, and the Irish had little of either.
The long unsettled state of the country, and the insecurity
of land tenure had done away with any skill that they might
otherwise have possessed, and the same causes tended to
keep down the quantity of capital in tiie country. Besides,
there was no great inducement held out to those who
wished to accumulate new capital, or to replace that which
was lost. The insecurity of tenure, from which the
Catholic tenantry suffered, and to which we have before
referred, discouraged the greater part of the population
from adding to the capital value of their farms, and the
saving of money was still further discouraged by the
Penal Act, not repealed until late in the century, which
provided that no Catholic might lend money on the


security of a mortgage on land. With such conditions as
these prevaihng, it is not surprising that the majority of
the Irisli tenantry were not tempted to increase the value
of their holdings by careful and laborious tillage, and by
the incidental improvements that such tillage implies; and
that those tenants, who were anxious to embark on under-
takings of this kind, found it difficult to raise the money to
do so, as the great majority of the lenders of the country
were unable to lend money on the one security that the
farmer was in a position to offer.

There were positive inducements, moreover, held out
to those who wished to use their land as pasture. In spite
of the legislation of 1698, vast quantities of wool continued
to be exported, or rather smuggled, to France, and cattle
were still freely exported to every country in the world
except Great Britain. In spite of these inducements, how^-

Online LibraryGeorge Augustine Thomas O'BrienThe economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century → online text (page 9 of 38)