George Augustine Thomas O'Brien.

The economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century online

. (page 1 of 38)
Online LibraryGeorge Augustine Thomas O'BrienThe economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century → online text (page 1 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

3n-3h Xitcicirv Society, Xon^oii


Mrmiikrs of the So 7 W. m.. «. i.. c. 11 » 3 W. and M.. c. 2.


of the Irish trade with England, the Colonies, and foreign
countries. The Irish export trade to England, which in
earlier times had been so profitable, was largely suppressed
by the Act of 1660, which imposed duties on all goods im-
ported into England.' Within a few years the import of
Irish cattle, sheep, swine, and their products was pro-
hibited." At the same time, Ireland's trade with the Colonies
was destroyed by means of the Navigation Acts, which also
put an end to the prosperity of Irish shipping. These
measures, though most harmful to Irish prosperity, were
quite legitimate. It was unquestionably within the power
of the English Parliament to impose any duties it wished
on the importation of goods into England ; it was also
within its power to regulate the trade of the English
colonies. So far, the Irish foreign trade had been left
untouched, and, as we shall see, it was developing at a
rapid rate- So long as the Irish Parliament retained a
semblance of its independence, the Irish foreign trade
could not be interfered with by English legislation, and
indeed no such interference was attempted before the
reign of William III. After the Revolution, however, the
English Parliament immediately claimed and vigorously
asserted its right to legislate for Ireland. As we have
seen, an Act was passed excluding Catholics from
the Irish Parliament, and in 1690 the Irish Acts of the
" Patriot Parliament " were declared null and void.'
Emboldened by its success in legislating for Ireland
without provoking remonstrance or resistance, the English
Parliament in 1698 passed a statute forbidding the Irish
to export their woollen manufactures to any part of the
world. As we shall see, the woollen manufacture was at
that time the staple industry of Ireland, and this pro-
hibition had the effect of bringing about complete
industrial ruin. Thus, on the very eve of the eighteenth
century, Ireland's foreign trade was severely wounded
and well nigh done to death, her English and Colonial
trade having been annihilated many years before.

>12Car. n.,c. 4. 2 18 Car. II.. c. 23; 20 Car. M.c. 7: 22 Car. II.. c. 2; 22 X- 23 Car. II., c.2.
8 1 W.and M.. c. 9.


1 1 may here be remarked that Ireland's worst enemy
was net the HnKlish Kin^' but the Hn^Hish Parhament,
and that the jx.liry of oppressing Ireland commercially
grew simultaneously with the rise of the power of the
Parliament in England. It was in the King's interest that
Ireland should be prosperous, as the Irish revenue was
a very important source of royal income, and the assistance
which he obtained in money and men from Ireland was
fre(iuently of great assistance in his struggles with the
Knglish Parliament. It was this very fact that partly
accounted for the hostility of the English Parliament to
Irish interests. The Parliaments following the Revolu-
tion, having fresh in their minds the struggle with
James II. and his hated device of flooding England with
Irish soldiers, were ever anxious to discourage the growth
of sources of royal revenue beyond Parliamentary control.
Thus, Ireland at the dawn of the eighteenth century
was economically in a very bad state. The land was in
the hands of strangers, and the old proprietors were sunk
in abject poverty ; the mass of the people was beginning
to feel the burden of an oppressive penal code; and Irish
trade was tottering after repeated blows. There is one
other factor in the situation which must be recalled before
a picture of the state of the country can be said to
be complete — namely, the great damage suffered by
all classes of property during the Revolutionary war.
Macaulay rightly emphasises this aspect of the war,' and,
although he probably exaggerates the loss sustained, there
is no doubt that great quantities of valuable cattle and
sheep were destroyed. '* The destruction of property which
took place within a few weeks would be incredible, if it were
not attested by witnesses unconnected with each other, and
attached to very different interests. All agreed in declaring
that it would take many years to repair the waste

that had been wrought in a few weeks The French

.Ambassador reported to his master that in six weeks
50.000 horned cattle had been slain, and were rotting on

' Hiitory 0/ Bngland. chap. xii.


the ground all over the country. The number of sheep
that were butchered during the same time was popularly
said to have been three or four hundred thousand. Any
estimate which can now be framed of the value of the
property destroyed during this fearful conflict of races
must necessarily be very inexact. We are not, however,
absolutely without materials for such an estimate. The
Quakers were neither a very numerous nor a very opulent
class. We can hardly suppose that they were more than
a fiftieth part of the Protestant population of Ireland, or
that they possessed more than a fiftieth part of the
Protestant wealth of Ireland. They were undoubtedly
better treated than any other Protestant sect. James had
always been partial to them : they own that Tyrconnel did
his best to protect them ; and they seem to have found
favour even in the sight of the Rapparees. Yet the Quakers
computed their pecuniary losses at a hundred thousand

Enough has now been said by way of introduction.
Ireland started the eighteenth century with as poor an
economic outfit as can well be imagined. As we shall
see, all the efforts which were made to improve her con-
dition were fruitless, so long as the power of the English
Parliament prevailed. The first eighty years of the cen-
tury were marked by no great economic progress in any
direction, and in many respects by economic retrogression.
In the years 1779-82 a great revolution took place; the
restraints which fettered trade were loosened; and the
independence of the Irish Parliament was reasserted. The
twenty years which followed were conspicuous for con-
tinued progress towards prosperity. Rents rose rapidly,
population increased, industry revived, trade flourished,
and the wealth of the country grew by leaps and bounds.
There is no doubt that, had not Ireland's independence
been extinguished, she would have developed into a rich
and powerful nation. But such things were not to be;
England, jealous of Ireland's new-found prosperity, deter-
mined once more to assume the control of Irish affairs.


The Act of Inion may or may not have been, from the
Kn^Hish stantlpoint, a wise measure pohtically; but it
certainly was, from the Irish standpoint, a ruinous one

In the following pa^cs the subject is divided into five
parts. The first part, entitled " Tho People," treats of
the people, their numbers and industrial qualities; the
second part, entitled "The Land." deals with the land
system, the different classes of tenants, the condition of
agriculture, and other matters relating to the land, such
as minintr. timber, and fisheries. The third part, entitled
" Industry and Trade," is concerned with the restraints
on Irish trade and their ultimate relaxation, and with the
condition of the principal industries of the country during
the period of restriction and the period of freedom
respectively. The fourth part, entitled " Public Wealth,"
deals with the questions of public finance, local taxation,

Online LibraryGeorge Augustine Thomas O'BrienThe economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century → online text (page 1 of 38)