In considering the severe restrictions placed by England on the Irish woollen manufacture, two questions naturally rise to our minds: one, to what extent had this industry really developed in Ireland before the Acts of 1698 and 1699; the other, how far did it manage to maintain itself after these Acts. By finding an answer to the first of these questions we may get some insight into the real injury inflicted on Ireland by the prohibition of her foreign trade in woollen goods, while by looking into the other we may see whether Ireland showed herself fitted for the industry by managing to develop it to some extent in face of such immense disadvantages. We may thus get some solution of the problem whether Ireland could have developed a large woollen manufacture had she been untrammelled by English commercial policy.
It is hardly necessary to emphasise the peculiar fitness of Ireland for wool growing. The first thing that seemed to strike Englishmen of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when they visited Ireland was the excellence of the soil for cattle and sheep grazing. Boate noticed that good grass grew on the highest cliffs along the coast,196 and although the soil could produce good corn, "nevertheless hath it a more natural fitness for grass, the which in most
p.96places it produceth very good and plentiful of itself or with little help."197 The consequence was that there were huge flocks of sheep in the country during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I., and up to the time of the Rebellion.198 There must have been a large domestic manufacture of native wool during this period, for the Irish of both sexes, and of all ranks, clothed themselves from head to foot in their rough native cloth. Wool was not allowed to be exported, and so was worked up at home. In Elizabeth's reign the long woollen mantle was the habitual covering of the Irish, both men and women; underneath was generally worn a linen smock or shirt.199 Later on, the men wore breeches and short coats made of coarse cloth of different colours, coarse woollen stockings, woollen caps or hats, and over all the same, a large mantle of frieze.200 The number of woollen garments worn by women and children also increased, and altogether the amount of wool necessary to make the garments of one individual must have been considerable. This native cloth was, no doubt, very rough and coarse. It was made by the women in their own homes, and the greater part of it was used by the people themselves. Some was, however, exported from very early times. In the reign of James I. we are told that the Irish exported frieze in great quantities, and that many of the rugs made at Waterford were also sent to other countries.201 Yarn, too, was spun in large amounts for foreign exportation. In an English Act of Parliament passed in 1543202 prohibiting the importation of Irish wool into England, woollen yarn is enumerated as among the principal branches of Irish trade, while in a
p.97later Act of 1571203 it is stated that Irish merchants had been exporters of this article for more than one hundred years. At this time it was thought good policy to encourage the Irish woollen manufacture. This was done both by English Acts of Parliament from the reign of Edward III. to that of Charles II., and also by many Irish Statutes passed with the approval of the English Privy Council.204 In consequence the industry made some progress, and in 1636 Strafford noticed that there were "some small beginnings towards a clothing trade" in the country .205 He did not, however, follow the old policy of encouraging the woollen industry in Ireland; on the contrary, he proposed to discourage this clothing trade as much as possible, for if the Irish continued to manufacture their own wool "it might be feared they might beat us out of the trade itself by underselling us, which they were able to do."206 Strafford, therefore, began the later policy of encouraging a linen manufacture in Ireland while discouraging the woollen. At the time his efforts were marked with some success, but the Rebellion destroyed the beginnings of his linen industry, and his scheme was not again taken up until the end of the century. The mere fact that Strafford anticipated possible Irish rivalry in the woollen trade shows that he thought the country peculiarly suited for the manufacture, and that he looked forward to its speedy development.
At the Restoration Irish wool could not be exported even to England, and after the effects of the Cattle Acts had worked themselves out in increasing the number of sheep in the country, there was such a quantity of wool in Ireland that this prohibition was felt to be a real grievance. Although the mass of the Irish people only
p.98used native cloth, for the duty laid on broad cloths and stuffs exported from England was too high to admit of their importation in any large quantities, all the wool in the country could not be worked up, and in 1661 we hear the first complaint of a clandestine exportation of Irish wool to France and Holland.207 In the same year the Committee on Trade in the Irish House of Commons reported that the restraint on exporting wool into England was an obstruction of trade, bearing in mind the great quantity of wool in Ireland which was not all needed in the home manufacture. They resolved that wool was an article of trade, and as such should be exported freely, and they appointed a committee to desire the Lords Justices to allow the exportation of wool to England.208 This request of the Irish Commons,209 together with a further petition that the duty on English stuffs exported to Ireland might be lowered,210 seems to show that the Irish woollen industry was very inconsiderable. We have, however, to think of the huge amount of wool which even at this time existed in the country, and also of the highly developed state of the English woollen manufacture. The Irish manufacture was, of course, crude and rough, and on a very limited scale compared with that of England; the better sorts of cloth were probably not made at all, and it would certainly be a very long time before Ireland would be able to work up all her own wool. Petty, however, estimated that nearly three times as much wool was used in the home manufacture as was exported,211 while it must be remembered that at this time England still found her own stock of wool sufficient for her large industry. The great and rapidly increasing quantities of wool in Ireland at least show that the
p.99progress of the manufacture was probable, and that only time and encouragement was needed to develop it. An Act passed by the Irish Parliament in 1666, "for the true making of all sorts of cloth called the Old Drapery and the New Drapery, and the true searching and sealing thereof by His Majesty's aulnager within the kingdom,"212 is evidence that the industry was progressing, and under the administration of Ormonde it certainly made rapid strides. Ormonde was extremely anxious that the Irish should work up their own wool into all sorts of cloth for home consumption, and thus do away with the necessity of importing the better and finer kinds. Sir Peter Pett, who presented a memorial to the Duke concerning the establishment of a woollen manufacture, recommended that fine worsted stockings and Norwich stuffs should be made in the country. He thought that in time this manufacture might be so improved as to be used in foreign trade, and he observed that as Ireland lay more conveniently to Spain than England, the Irish might eventually procure for themselves the chief part of the woollen trade with that country. Ormonde therefore introduced into Ireland Protestant refugees who were skilled in the industry, and established colonies of them in different places to carry on the manufacture. By this means a woollen manufacture was set up at Clonmel. It was carried on by five hundred Walloon families, to whom Ormonde gave land and houses on long and easy leases.213 At Cork the woollen manufacture was begun by James Fontaine, a Huguenot refugee. He was the pastor of the French congregation in the town, but finding he could not live on the small subscriptions collected for him, he began a manufacture of broad cloth.214 Under Ormonde's encouragement this manufacture progressed, and began to
p.100include different kinds of woollen cloth and ginghams. About the same time some French refugees settled at Waterford to make druggets and such like articles,215 so that the country gained considerably from this foreign immigration. But the English woollen manufacturers also did something to increase the industry. We are told in an interesting letter written in 1677 by an Irish gentleman to his brother in England216 that just before the Acts were passed prohibiting the exportation of Irish cattle, some West of England clothiers, "finding their trade decaying and themselves very poor," emigrated to Ireland, tempted by the cheapness of wool and of living and the seemingly thriving state of the country. They started a manufacture in Dublin which was "growing daily." About the same time sixty Dutch families came over from England and set up a manufacture in Limerick; but this decayed at the outbreak of the Dutch wars, and was not again revived on any large scale. A few years later, however, some English clothiers came over to Ireland and established various manufactures in the neighbourhoods of Cork and Kinsale, which a few years later had become "fairly considerable," while about 1675 certain London merchants started another woollen manufacture at Clonmel. The writer of this letter adds that a few other small attempts had been made to develop the Irish woollen industry, and exclaims indignantly that "it were more allowable to plant poison than manufactures with us." He does his best, however, to emphasise the limited scale on which the industry was carried on, and declares that, "modestly speaking, the whole quantity of what we work up in Ireland amounts not to the half of what any one clothing county in England works up." At the same time he seems to believe in the possibilities of the manufacture, and advocates its encouragement in order
p.101to increase the King's revenue, people the country, raise the rents of land, and "wear off the barbarity of the common Irish." On the whole, evidence seems to show that although the Irish woollen manufacture was on a small scale compared with that of England, yet it was larger than is generally thought, while it certainly made some progress from the Restoration to the end of the century. During the reign of Charles II. the Irish consumption of English woollen goods decreased steadily.217 The Irish Parliament had altered its policy of trying to obtain English woollens cheap for Irish consumption, and now tried to foster the native manufacture by laying import duties on English cloth, stuffs, stockings, and hats, while at the same time it discouraged the exportation of Irish wool.!218 During these years there was a great rise in the Irish revenue, and this was generally attributed by both English and Irish to the progress of the woollen manufacture, "which continually furnished poor spinners and combers with daily money to smoke and drink; so that in all the towns where the said manufactures were, the inland excise advanced incredibly."219 The policy of the Irish Parliament in discouraging the importation of English woollen goods was certainly thought by contemporaries to be instrumental in the development of the Irish manufacture. The author of "Britannia Languens" was especially strong on this point. He says that "since the late Irish Acts, the Irish have set up a considerable woollen manufacture of their own, for frieze and stuffs and now make good cloth," while the English importation of woollens into Ireland had
p.102steadily diminished.220 Irish frieze, too, was imported in large quantities into England and Scotland,221 as the demand for it was very great. The complaint, however, that Ireland was importing very much less of English woollen manufactures seems to have been a little exaggerated. At any rate, the statements on this point vary greatly, and although it is certain that there was a steady falling off in Irish consumption, no satisfactory figures can be obtained of the exact decrease in this branch of trade.
It was after the Revolution that the Irish woollen manufacture began to make really rapid strides. The resolution in the Irish House of Commons in 1695, for regulating the manufacture,222 and the resolutions of the Committee of Supply in the same session,223 seem to imply a considerable progress in the industry. Dutch and Spanish merchants were now exporting Irish woollen stuffs from Ireland, and also great quantities of "sheep's grey and white frieze" and stockings from Cork, Youghal, Waterford, and Dublin.224 English woollen merchants were buying Irish woollen goods, exclusive of stockings and friezes, for sale abroad, owing to their superior cheapness over English,225 and the Irish were supplying the English plantations clandestinely with cloths and stockings.226 In 1698, it was stated that the woollen manufacture was giving work to twelve thousand Protestant families in Dublin and thirty thousand over the rest of the country.227 The Papists, too, were beginning to flock into the trade, as may be seen from a petition presented to the Irish House
p.103of Commons in 1698 from the Protestant woollen manufacturers of Ireland.228 This petition set forth that in 1692 the Papists in the manufacture were few, but during the last six years they had got one-third part of the industry into their own hands, and had left such callings as they were bred to "and have set up and followed the manufacture." There must therefore have been large numbers of Irish employed in the trade besides the forty-two thousand Protestant families mentioned above. There was indeed no reason why the Irish woollen manufacture should not progress. It was now fairly started, and time would give the necessary skill and capital for extending it on a large scale. Irish wool was capable of any increase, and was equal to the best Northamptonshire or Leicestershire wool.
But if evidence shows that the woollen industry was making rapid progress in Ireland, and seemed eminently suited to the country, it also shows that the jealous fears of England were exaggerated and premature. Only friezes were exported from Ireland in any considerable amount, so that the English prohibitory Act was gratuitously oppressive. In 1687, the year of the largest exportations from Ireland, the total value of woollen manufactures exported did not exceed 70,5211 l. 14s., and of that sum the value of friezes amounted to 56,485 1. 10s., and that of coarse stockings to 2,520 l. 18s., while the whole value of both old and new draperies only amounted to 11,514 l. 10s.229 As friezes were not made in England, English woollen manufacturers could not be injured by their exportation to foreign markets. As time went on, however, the Irish exportation of both old and new drapery would, of course, have progressed, and it was of this presumably that the English were thinking when they destroyed the Irish foreign trade in manufactured woollens. The following
p.104table shows the amount of woollen goods exported from Ireland to all parts of the world in various years from 1685 to 1698:
|Year||Old Drapery Pcs.||new Drapery Pcs.||Frieze Yards||Hats No.||Rugs No.||Stockings Pairs|
The amounts exported are not large, but they show that the trade was progressing. Ireland still imported a good deal more old drapery than she exported, but in 1698 she exported more new drapery than she imported.231 A great variety of woollen stuffs were manufactured in the country, as may be seen from an Act passed by the Irish House of Commons in 1705 forbidding the stretching of certain cloths and stuffs.232 This Act mentions, among other stuffs, broad cloths, half cloths, druggets, simple serges, cloth serges, flannels, cloth and worsted druggets, druggets mixed with silk, cotton, or linen yarn, ratteens, kersies, friezes, narrow bays, paragons, farandines, camblets, worsted stuffs, and worsted stockings.
There was, then, a fairly thriving woollen manufacture in Ireland on a small scale during the last years of the seventeenth century, and the fact that the prohibition placed by England on the exportation of Irish woollen goods did not destroy the industry, goes some way to prove that the woollen manufacture might have become a source of wealth to the country, and that an immense
p.105injury was inflicted on Ireland by English interference with this branch of trade.
The consequences of the Act of 1699 were not long in showing themselves. Scattered through the Irish Commons Journals we find various notices of petitions sent up by the woollen clothiers and weavers of Dublin and other places setting forth the great decay of their trade and praying relief.233 From 1698 to 1710 there was a steady fall in the value of exports due to the absence of an exportation of woollen goods to foreign parts.234 The fall may have been to some extent compensated by an increase in the clandestine exportation of raw wool, but of course this would not be mentioned in the Custom House Books. Practically no woollen manufactures except friezes and coarse stockings were sent to England on account of the prohibitory import duties. The exportation of woollen manufactures to foreign parts did not, however, entirely cease, for in 1739 we hear of a clandestine trade in stuffs to Lisbon, in which the Irish were said to undersell both France and England.235 An Act in the first year of Anne236 allowed the Irish to export the necessary clothing for certain Irish regiments stationed at the Leeward Islands, but this concession did not last long, for two years later another Act237 forbade any woollen manufacture whatever to be exported from Ireland to the plantations unless taken on board in Great Britain. The drawbacks allowed on the re-exportation of Irish woollens from Great Britain were too small to make it profitable for Irish merchants to send their woollen goods to the plantations by way of England. Nor could Ireland for some time reap any legitimate profit by combing wool or spinning
p.106woollen yarn for foreign markets. The exportation from Ireland of mattresses or beds stuffed with combed wool or wool fit for combing was forbidden,238 while bay yarn and woollen yarn could not be exported at all to foreign parts, and only to England on payment of a heavy duty.239 Great quantities of combed wool were, however, smuggled to France,240 and after the duty on the importation of Irish woollen and bay yarn into Great Britain was removed in 1739,241 Ireland was able to obtain some profit from the lowest processes of the manufacture. There was doubtless, too, some clandestine exportation of yarn to France, for quantities were spun in the western ports of Ireland, and French ships were constantly cruising round this part of the coast ready to take a share in any smuggling trade.242 But the permission to export yarn to Great Britain duty free probably saved the Irish woollen manufacture from further destruction by rendering it more profitable to keep up a large stock of wool in the country than it otherwise would have been.
All during the eighteenth century there was great anxiety on the part of patriotic Irishmen to increase the home consumption of Irish woollen stuffs. The Dublin Society did something to encourage the manufacture. Improved processes were introduced, and in the latter half of the century the industry revived to some extent. In a valuable pamphlet of 1759,243 we are told that the woollen manufacture in Dublin included, "superfine, refine and middling cloths, serges, druggets, drabs, ratteens, narrow goods of all sorts, calimancoes, everlastings, German serges, stuffs and camblets, poplins [...] all very well finished and some to the utmost nicety; as
p.107are also velvets plain and flowered [...] hair and worsted shags." The writer adds that "it is with real satisfaction that I have lately seen some pieces of superfine cloth of home manufacture equal to any imported." For some time after this there are few notices of the manufacture, but in 1775, if we are to judge from Arthur Young's remarks in his "Tour in Ireland," it was flourishing on a small scale in various parts of the country. In the county of Cork about three-quarters of the wool produced was exported as yarn, but the remaining quarter was worked up into stuffs for home use. Serges, camblets, ratteens, friezes, druggets, and narrow cloths were made. The manufacturers, interviewed by Young, were certain that if they were allowed to export their woollen goods, they would drive a thriving trade.244 Most of the serges made in this county were sent to Dublin by land carriage, then to the north of Ireland, from whence they were smuggled into England by way of Scotland.245 Carrick was a large manufacturing town for woollens. Formerly ratteens had chiefly been made, but in Young's time broad cloth was the principal manufacture, altogether for home consumption. The manufacture was said to be progressing, and seemed to Young in a flourishing enough condition; it employed between three and four thousand persons in Carrick and its neighbourhood.246 There was also a manufacture of worsted stockings extending some eight or ten miles round Cork, which supplied the needs of the district, and also sent large quantities of stockings to the northern counties.247 In Cork itself, there was a manufacture for army clothing, for the Irish were now allowed to export clothing to their troops in America. For Ireland, this manufacture was fairly considerable; it paid 40 l. a week in wages. The manager told Young that many fabrics in which the French
p.108were underselling the English could be worked up in Ireland far more cheaply than in France. He was quite sure he could make broad cloths one to one and a half yards wide at 3s. to 3s. 6d. per yard for the Levant trade; friezes, twenty-four to twenty-seven inches wide, at 10d. to 13d. per yard, now supplied by Carcassonne, in Languedoc; flannels, twenty-seven to thirty-six inches wide, at 7d. to 14d. per yard, and serges, twenty-seven to thirty-six inches wide, at 7d. to 12d. per yard.248 All these stuffs, except broad cloths, could be made with coarse wool, of which there were quantities in the country, while labour was very cheap.
At this time very little wool was being smuggled from Ireland, as the price was high enough to sell it profitably at home. Arthur Young thought that for the last twenty years none at all had been smuggled, not even from Kerry.249 This was, of course, owing to the thriving export trade in woollen and bay yarn to Great Britain. According to Young, there was little decrease in the quantity of wool grown in the country, and at Ballynasloe Fair, which took place every July, an average of £20,000 worth of wool was sold every year.250 Young thought that the Irish sheep were on an average better than the English, and that the weight of the fleece was nearly equal.251
During the whole of this period Ireland managed to supply the greater part of her own needs in woollen goods. Except in the years of distress from 1776 to 1779, only very small quantities of both old and new drapery were imported into the country. The gentry probably used English cloths because of their superior quality, but the mass of the people clothed themselves in the coarser stuffs made at home. As their foreign trade was prohibited, there was little inducement for Irish manufacturers to
p.109make the finer and better kinds of cloth. There was little demand for such stuffs in Ireland, because of the great poverty of the bulk of the people, and what demand there was could be met by English manufacturers, who had easy access to the Irish markets, and who could always rival the Irish manufacturers as far as the superior sorts of cloth were concerned. So the Irish manufacturers naturally devoted themselves to making coarse stuffs, such as were used by the majority of the people. Their skill inevitably declined, the profits of the manufacture were small, and so it increased little in extent; and as the greater part of the wool grown in the country was intended for combing purposes or for merely spinning into coarse yarn, its quality naturally deteriorated. At the end of 1779, when Ireland was once more allowed to export her woollen manufactures, she found herself in a far less advantageous position than she had been eighty years before. Large woollen manufactures had now been established in all the chief European countries; Great Britain had certain branches of the trade firmly in her hands; Irish wool was only capable of being made up into the coarsest stuffs; there was little skill and little capital in the country. It was because of all this that the Irish woollen manufacture, after the first burst forward due to the removal of the trade restrictions, progressed less steadily during the last twenty years of the eighteenth century than any other of the more important Irish industries.
When we consider that during this time English woollen goods of all kinds were allowed into Ireland on payment of duties of only 10 per cent ad valorem, and that the poverty of the country prevented the growth of a large home demand for any but the very coarsest stuffs; when we also consider that restrictions on the exportation of any article must discourage its manufacture for home purposes, we are able to realise the full extent of the injury inflicted on Ireland by English interference in her woollen trade. The history of the industry shows that
p.110England was altogether successful in preventing Ireland from rivaling her manufactures in foreign markets, for the clandestine trade in woollen stuffs to Spain and Portugal was short lived. But it also shows us that England did not succeed in supplying the consumption of the Irish in woollen goods, for after the Woollen Acts, as before, Ireland continued to meet the greater part of her own wants. That this was the case, in spite of all the disadvantages under which Ireland laboured in her commercial relations with Great Britain, goes some way to prove how successfully the industry might have established itself had it been unhampered by restrictions. At the end of the seventeenth century Ireland had the same advantages as England as regards a good and plentiful supply of the raw material for the manufacture, while she had a real superiority in cheapness of living, and therefore of labour. The industry was making rapid strides; the necessary skill and capital would come in time; there was no reason why in the near future Ireland should not have competed successfully with England in certain branches of the manufacture. By the English Act of 1699 the material prosperity of Ireland received a great blow. The injury inflicted was not one of principle, of abstract injustice; it was a real and practical and immediate injury. A flourishing woollen manufacture might have changed the whole face of the country; it might have done much to make Ireland prosperous and contented, and it would have been of immense advantage to England. But the eighty years of restriction did their work well; they took away for ever Ireland's chance of becoming rich through a large woollen manufacture, as England had done; and this was all the more easily accomplished because of the peculiar circumstances and condition of Ireland, her poverty and dependence. We can see now how short sighted English policy was. Unfortunately, it is far easier to destroy manufactures than to establish them, and so Ireland still suffers from the commercial policy of the eighteenth century.