The history of the Irish linen industry is in many ways peculiarly interesting. It gives us the one solitary instance of an Irish manufacture meeting with a good deal of encouragement at the hands of English statesmen, and developing steadily and fairly continuously for nearly two centuries, until at the present day its products are known and used in every civilised country in Europe. The industry was by no means a spontaneous growth. Ever since the time of Strafford it had been thought good policy to promote the manufacture of linen in Ireland, and after the destruction of the Irish foreign trade in woollen goods this same policy seemed the only way by which the prosperity of the country could be furthered. Fortunately for Ireland, the encouragement of the industry up to a certain point was not contrary to British interests, and the Irish Parliament, by means of bounties and rewards of
p.112every kind, managed to develop the manufacture in a remarkable way. It is true that this development was often checked and hampered through the jealous fears of English and Scotch manufacturers, especially when, in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the linen manufactures in both England and Scotland increased greatly; still there was enough encouragement to enable the Irish industry to develop satisfactorily on certain lines, and no district in Great Britain has ever been able to equal Ireland in the manufacture of the finest sorts of linen. It was only after the restrictions placed by England on the Irish woollen trade that the linen manufacture assumed any importance in Ireland. But linen-making was practised in the country from the very earliest times. It existed in the thirteenth century, and in the fifteenth we hear of linen cloth being exported to England.252 In the sixteenth century we have various notices of the industry. Spenser mentions that in his time all Irishmen wore shirts made of linen, often consisting of thirty to forty ells in length, while the women wore turbans of the same material.253 These must have been native manufactures, as no linen was then imported from England. Earlier, in an Act of Parliament passed in 1542,254 linen yarn is mentioned with woollen as among the principal branches of trade in Ireland; while in a later Act of 1571255 it is stated that Irish merchants had been exporters of this article for more than a century. The Irish must have exported their linen to foreign countries as well as to England, for Guicciardini enumerates coarse linens among the articles exported from Ireland to Antwerp.256 There was certainly a great deal of flax grown in the country at this time, and in the reign of
p.113James I. we are again told that the Irish worked this flax into yarn and exported it in "great quantity."257 It was Strafford who first saw the possibility of establishing in Ireland an important linen industry which might supplant the manufacture of woollens. In all matters relating to Irish industry he wished to enrich England as well as Ireland. "We must not only endeavour to enrich them" (the Irish), he wrote to the King, "but make sure still to hold them dependent on the Crown, and not able to subsist without us." He therefore wished the Irish to import all their clothing, salt, and victuals from England, "in order to strengthen bonds with England and improve the King's revenue."258 But as any progress in Irish wealth would also of itself increase the King's revenue, Strafford set himself to promote an industry which might at one and the same time enrich Ireland and be useful to England. There was at this time no fear of injuring English interests by encouraging the Irish linen industry; on the contrary, it was believed that England would greatly gain, for she might import linen from Ireland instead of spending large sums in obtaining it from foreign countries. Strafford noticed that Irish women were all brought up to spin, and that the soil of the country was good for growing flax. In 1636 he writes to the King that he is setting up a manufacture of linen cloth in Ireland, and relates how he has sent for £100 worth of flax-seed from Holland, and for skilled workmen from the Low Countries; how he has already established six or seven looms; and how, in his opinion, the Irish can undersell France or Holland by as much as 20 per cent259 Strafford's efforts met at the time with some success. He introduced better methods of cultivating flax, and he proved the sincerity of his purpose by investing part of his private fortune in the new undertaking. But the
p.114Civil Wars practically destroyed all that he had done, and prevented for the time being any new development.
After the Restoration, when the country began to settle down under the administration of the Duke of Ormonde, Strafford's ideas were taken up, and a new attempt was made to establish the linen manufacture on a satisfactory basis. The Duke sent intelligent messengers to the Low Countries to see how the manufacture was carried on there, and to make contracts with Flemish workmen. He got Sir William Temple, then English ambassador at Brussels, to send over five hundred Brabant families skilled in the industry, while he imported other skilled workmen from La Rochelle, the Island of Rho, and from Jersey.260 Ormonde was seconded in his efforts by the Irish Parliament, who appointed a Committee of Trade to take into consideration how the manufacture of linen cloth might be encouraged in the kingdom.261 At this time Irish linen was not admitted into England, and the Irish Parliament in its turn now placed an excise and custom of twelve shillings for every hundred ells of English and foreign linens imported. During the next ten years some progress was made in the industry, and when Ormonde returned to England in 1669 he left behind him two flourishing linen manufacturesone at Chappel Izod, near Dublin, and another at Carrick. At Chappel Izod there were said to be three hundred hands working at the manufacture of sail cloth, cordage, linen cloth, and diaper of Irish yarn. At Carrick the industry was on a smaller scale, but the Duke had done his best to encourage it by giving one-half of the houses and five hundred acres of land to the workmen at two-thirds of the rent for the space of thirty-one years.262 Contemporary writers, both English and Irish, insisted that all the industry required was encouragement, for it was peculiarly suited to the people and the climate of
p.115Ireland. Sir William Temple was especially emphatic on this point. "No women," he said, "are apter to spin it well than the Irish, who, labouring little in any kind with their hands, have their fingers more supple and softer than other women of the poor condition among us." He was anxious to promote the linen manufacture in Ireland, "so as to beat down the trade both of France and Holland, and draw much of the money which goes from England to those parts upon this occasion into the hands of His Majesty's subjects of Ireland without crossing any interest of trade in England,"263 reasons characteristic of the age in which he lived. The Irish Parliament was also convinced of the wisdom of fostering the linen industry, and as early as 1672 voted a certain sum of money to be applied for the encouragement of the manufacture of fine linen.264 But in spite of the combined efforts of Ormonde and the Irish Parliament, the linen manufacture continued to exist on a small scale. Yarn was not spun in any considerable quantity except in the north, and Irish yarn was rarely capable of being made into the better sorts of linen for exportation.265 At any rate, whatever trade there was disappeared almost entirely during the Revolutionary War. Even in 1698, when the country had more or less recovered from the effects of the war, the linen trade could have been of little value as compared with the woollen, for two years later the whole export of linens only amounted in value to £14,112,266 while the amount of linen cloth used in the country was very much less than the quantity of woollen stuffs consumed. In 1699 England, in fact, substituted a possible trade in the place of an established and flourishing one. But even if the linen trade had been as advanced as the woollen, its encouragement
p.116could hardly be regarded as a compensation for the policy adopted towards the woollen industry, because, as we have seen, ever since the time of Strafford, England had steadily encouraged the manufacture of hemp and flax in Ireland. England therefore was merely continuing her old policy, and was giving nothing new in exchange for the Irish foreign trade in woollen goods. She secured herself for ever against all possible Irish competition in the woollen trade, and for the time being she promoted her own interests by encouraging the linen industry in Ireland. English manufacturers were now anxious to establish the Irish linen trade securely in order to decrease the number of people making worsted and woollen yarn which was sent to England and undersold the English makers, and to force Ireland to supply England with linen yarn for the making of fustians.267
In spite of all the promises of the Lords Justices to the Irish Parliament in 1698, no new encouragement was given to the Irish linen industry until after the lapse of seven years. We have seen that during these years the poverty of Ireland was extreme, but a few seeds of prosperity were being sown by the immigration of many Protestant traders and manufacturers. Already in 1697 William III. had invited Louis Crommelin, a Huguenot refugee, to come over to Ireland and superintend the linen manufacture. Crommelin's family had carried on the industry in France for more than four hundred years, and he himself had been head of an extensive linen manufacture in Picardy. In 1698 he came over to Ireland and fixed on Lisburn, ten miles south-west of Belfast, as the best place for establishing his new manufacture. The King appointed him "Overseer of the Royal Linen Manufactory of Ireland," and in 1699 granted him a patent. Crommelin was also given £800 a year for ten years as interest on £10,000 advanced by him for starting the
p.117business, an annuity of £200 for life, and £120 a year for his assistants.268 These assistants had to watch over the cultivation of the flax and visit the bleaching yards to see if the linen was properly finished off. In his turn Crommelin agreed to advance sums of money without interest to workmen and their families coming from abroad to enable them to embark on the industry, and also to English and Irish workmen destitute of means and anxious to work at the trade. Once Crommelin had started his linen industry at Lisburn, he invited over Protestant artisans from France and the Low Countries. As a result, a great settlement of artisans was made at Lisburn. The town had been burnt in the Civil Wars, but the establishment of a linen manufacture by Crommelin and his Protestants soon made it one of the most prosperous towns in Ireland. Crommelin did much to improve the industry. He imported a thousand looms and spinning wheels from Holland, and gave a premium of £5 for every loom at work. He also introduced improvements of his own, and before long finer linen was produced in the north of Ireland than had ever before been made in the King's dominions.
The linen industry was not absolutely confined to the north. Many Protestant refugees settled at Waterford, where they were warmly welcomed by the Mayor and Corporation. The local authorities were extremely anxious to encourage Huguenot refugees skilled in the arts to settle in their town, and ordered in 1693 that "the city and liberties do provide habitations for fifty families of the French Protestants to drive a trade of linen manufacture, they bringing with them a stock of money and materials for their subsistence until flax can be sown and produced on the lands adjacent; and that the freedom of the city be given to them gratis."269 But with the exception
p.118of Waterford most of the Huguenot refugees naturally settled in the north, where they found religious sympathisers among the Scotch Presbyterians, and the linen manufacture in its new form was for some time little known outside Ulster. In spite of all that foreign immigration was doing to foster the industry, it was soon found that it was impossible for the Irish to acquire dexterity in the trade in a few years, and the Irish Parliament petitioned again and again for some substantial encouragement on the part of England. But England for the time did nothing, and many men in Ireland began to be anxious lest the linen manufacture should share the fate of the woollen. Three-quarters of all the linen yarn spun in the country was sent to England to be worked up there because a greater profit could be obtained in this way than if the yarn were made into cloth and then sold. "This transportation of yarn," wrote Archbishop King, "must therefore be stopped before we can expect any improvement of that manufacture, and quaere, will England permit it? Shall we not have as many petitions on that account from the linen weavers as now from the clothiers or herring fisheries; there is a Lancaster in England as well as a Yarmouth or Worcester."270 The English demand for linen yarn was a hindrance to the development of the industry, and many other difficulties had to be encountered. The importation of flax seed had proved to be very expensive, and the crops were always liable to failure through unsound seed. The culture of flax, too, was unprofitable, and no farmer would undertake the work solely on his own initiative. The moist air of Ireland was no doubt suitable for the growth of flax, but the country as a whole was not so peculiarly suited for the industry as was thought. In the woollen trade Ireland worked up the raw material she possessed; in the linen she had to depend for her material on foreign countries.
Just before the passing of the Woollen Acts an English Act of Parliament271 had allowed Ireland to export direct to England any sorts of hemp and flax and thread yarn, and all kinds of linens duty free, but the English ports in Asia, Africa and America were still shut against all Irish linens. At last, in 1705, the English legislature gave its first new encouragement to the Irish linen trade by permitting Ireland to export coarse white and brown linens to the colonies.272 But shortly after this the Irish found that their linen manufacture was by no means to be encouraged in the same degree as the manufactures in England and Scotland. Since the Union with Scotland there had been suspicions in Ireland that this would be the case, for the Scotch were very anxious to foster their linen industry. King in 1706 expressed the prevailing fears on the subject. "The woollen manufacture," he wrote, "was taken from us because England resolved to have it to themselves, and sure Scotland rivals us much more in our linen, and quaere whether they may not expect to be gratified in it; how can they fail to obtain their desires where they have a vote and we none to oppose them!"273 Ten years later these suspicions were verified, for in the third year of George I. the permission which had been given to Ireland to export certain of her cheap linens to the plantations was renewed under the condition that British linens should be allowed into Ireland free of duty. At the same time Irish coloured linens when imported into Great Britain were subject to a duty equal to a prohibition.274 So now the small duty which the Irish Parliament had hitherto exacted upon British as well as foreign linens imported had to be given up, while Irish merchants had to submit to the total exclusion of a large and important class of their linens from the British
p.120markets. Ireland was not in a position to retaliate upon Great Britain by imposing prohibitive duties on British manufactures.
The permission to export white and brown linens to the plantations did not benefit Ireland much, for the Navigation Acts prevented her bringing anything directly in return. But something further was done for the Irish industry two years later when a British Act of Parliament275 gave a bounty of 1d. per yard on the exportation of sail cloth from Ireland of the value of 10d. and under 1s. 2d. per yard. This bounty, however, was of short duration, as the British soon developed a sail cloth manufacture of their own, and no further bounty was granted to the Irish hempen or linen manufactures until 1743, when the regular system of bounties on the exportation from Great Britain of both British and Irish linens of a certain quality was begun.
During this first half of the eighteenth century the linen industry was encouraged by the Irish rather than by the British Parliament. From the fourth year of Anne to the nineteenth of George II. the Irish Parliament passed no less than fourteen Acts276 for the advancement of the manufacture, and chiefly through these efforts the industry began to flourish. During Anne's reign an additional duty of 6d. per yard was placed on all linens imported,277 and the proceeds went to form a fund for the granting of premiums to farmers for the cultivation of flax. But in 1717, as we have seen, all duties on the importation of British linens had to cease278 and the additional duty was from this time only levied on foreign linens imported, and in consequence yielded very little. Subsequent statutes expressly exempted British cambrics and lawns, linens painted or stained in Britain, and British towelling from
p.121all duties imposed on similar articles imported from foreign countries.279 It was not in the power of the Irish Parliament to exclude British competition, but in every other way it did its best to promote the growing industry. In 1711 the Linen Board was set up to encourage and supervise the manufacture. The Board met every year, in the White Linen Hall in Dublin, and until its dissolution in 1728, was entrusted with the disposal of the Parliamentary grants, which varied from £10,000 to £33,000 a year. It was to this Board that Crommelin applied for a renewal of his patent and a substantial provision of £500 a year for life.280 Some difficulty seems to have been felt as to the possibility of raising even this comparatively small sum, and a letter from one of the Lords Justices complains that Ireland was too poor to raise the money, and suggests that instead the patent should be extended for a still longer period.281 But there was much difference of opinion about this proposed extension of the patent. In return for the extension Crommelin had promised to establish a new linen manufacture at Kilkenny, but no sooner was this plan known of extending the industry to Leinster than a fierce opposition arose. It was feared that if the linen industry was established on too large a scale in Ireland, Irish linens would altogether replace Dutch in England, and Holland would in consequence no longer purchase English woollen manufactures. Davenant was of this opinion,282 and the English Commissioners of Customs opposed the scheme of the Linen Board on the same grounds. We get a characteristic statement of these objections from a letter in the Departmental Correspondence in the Irish Record Office from G. Doddington to J. Dawson. It is said that "by encouraging and paying rewards to such persons as make fine linen in Ireland the
p.122Flemings and Hollanders are provoked to discourage the woollen manufacture of Britain." The Lord High Treasurer advised that if the patent to Crommelin was extended it should at least be under the restriction that no linen except of the coarsest kind should be made. Only after a very long struggle was this suggestion successfully opposed by the Linen Board, and at last Crommelin managed to secure the extension of his patent and a grant of £500 a year for life.
But although much was now being done by the Irish Parliament and the Linen Board to develop the industry, the progress of the manufacture was comparatively slow during the first half of the eighteenth century. This was owing to the general want of capital, the ignorance and poverty of the people, and the neglect of Grand Juries.283 Complaints were made that the law which required the Grand Juries in every county to give premiums to the women who had made the three best pieces of cloth was of no avail, because the young jurymen always insisted on giving the premiums to the three prettiest girls.284 At Waterford the manufacture established by the Protestant refugees made little progress, and an attempt which was made in 1736 to set up a linen manufacture in Tipperary proved unsuccessful.285 Altogether many difficulties and checks had to be met and overcome.
Still, the linen manufacture had now become the staple manufacturing industry of Ireland. It has been seen that in 1700 the manufacture was very inconsiderable; but as soon after as 1727 it was calculated that linen actually amounted to one-third of the total Irish exports. For the year ending Lady Day, 1727, the value of linen cloth exported from Ireland amounted to £238,444, having
p.123increased by £234,332 since 1701, while for the same year the value of linen yarn exported came to £103,726.286 The linen manufacture at Belfast was increasing by leaps and bounds, and in 1757 the town possessed no less than three hundred and thirty-nine linen looms.287 By 1732 the industry had made some progress in Leinster and Connaught.288 In the County of Cork there was a spinning school at Killeigh for the encouragement of the manufacture,289 and at Innishannon there was a flourishing linen industry possessed of sixty-six looms. All the cloth made at this factory was carefully viewed, and it was certified that for "goodness, breadth, strength, and colour, the linen made here equals any other manufactured in Ireland."290 At Douglas, in the same county, there was a manufacture of sail cloth, said to be the largest in the kingdom.291 It had been started in 1726, when forty looms had been erected. Since then many additions had been made, until in 1750 one hundred looms were at work. Two hundred and fifty persons were employed in hackling, warping, and weaving, and five hundred as spinners. This meant a weekly expenditure of £60 for labour only, a fairly considerable amount when one thinks of the industrial condition of the country at that time. During the two years ending Christmas, 1747, this factory at Douglas manufactured 172,116 yards of sail cloth, worth from 14d. to 20d. per yard. In the year 1746, as much as 9,348 yards of sail cloth and canvas were exported to Great Britain, where it was in great demand,292 and in the same year the Irish Parliament tried to develop the
p.124manufacture still further by granting bounties on the exportation of all sail cloth from Ireland2d. per yard on cloth of the value of 10d. and under 14d. per yard, and 4d. per yard on cloth above 14d. per yard in value.293 From 1747 to 1750 inclusive, while this bounty remained uncounteracted, there was exported from Ireland to Great Britain 96,241 yards of sail cloth on an average each year.294 It was stated that "by this the British manufacture of sail cloth was greatly injured and depressed," and in consequence in 1750 the British Parliament retaliated by imposing duties equivalent to the Irish bounties on all Irish sail cloth and canvas imported into Great Britain.295 Nothing remained for the Irish Parliament but to take off its bounties, and as soon as this was done the British duties ceased also. It was now seen that Great Britain was not prepared to give Ireland equal advantages with herself in the manufacture of hemp, although it had always been understood by the Irish Parliament that the linen and hempen manufactures should be coupled together. Indeed the two had been mentioned as one in the speech of the Lords justices in 1697, but since then Great Britain had developed a sail cloth manufacture of her own,296 and was not prepared to allow Irish competition. But this Act of 1751 did something worse than refuse to allow Ireland to develop her sail cloth industry in her own way: it also began the destruction of the flourishing hempen manufacture of Ireland by granting bounties on all kinds of British hempen manufactures exported to the plantations, to Ireland, or to foreign countries. It was also laid down by another clause in the Act that there should be added to the bounty on the sail cloth and canvas exported to Ireland as much more as at any time Ireland might
p.125impose as a duty on the importation of these articles. Ireland was thus not only prohibited from granting bounties on her own hempen manufactures: she was also forced to admit British bounty-fed sail cloth and canvas duty free. The consequences soon showed themselves, although the Irish industry made a good struggle. From 1751 to 1754 the average yearly export of Irish sail cloth and canvas to Great Britain decreased to 25,895.5 yards, while Great Britain exported to Ireland 7,561.75 yards on an average each year. From 1754 to 1760, the Irish exportation to Great Britain increased to 48,358 yards on an average each year, but the British exportation to Ireland increased at a far greater rate, the yearly average being 24,514.75 yards.297 From this time British manufacturers were able to flood the Irish market with their goods, and the Irish hempen manufacture rapidly decayed, until in 1779 Ireland could not even supply her own needs. It was stated in a report sent up to the Lord Lieutenant in this year that the policy of England had "nearly annihilated the hempen manufacture of Ireland, greatly to the prejudice of England and to the advantage of the Russians, Dutch, and Germans, who have imported greater quantities into England.298 Even Ireland's trade in the raw material received a blow by a British Act granting bounties on the importation of American hemp. This Act naturally had the effect of prohibiting the importation of Irish hemp into Great Britain, and checking its growth in a country well fitted for it.299
It was only certain kinds of Irish linens which received encouragement from the British legislature. The system of bounties on the exportation of both British and Irish linens from Great Britain only applied, with a trifling exception under George III., to certain sorts of cheap
p.126plain linens under 1s 6d. per yard in value. All other kinds of linens were only entitled to a bounty if of British manufacture. The first of these Bounty Acts was passed in 1743,300 when an additional duty was laid on foreign cambrics imported of 1s. 5d. for every half piece, and 2s. 10d. for every whole piece. Out of this additional duty there was allowed a bounty of 1d. for every yard of British or Irish linen exported, worth from 6d. to 12d. per yard. Three years later another Act301 granted a further bounty of 0.5d. per yard on linen exported of the value of 5d. and not exceeding 12d. per yard, and of 1.5d. a yard on linen of the value of 12d. to 1s. 6d. per yard, as this previous Act had given no bounty to linen of this price. None of these bounties extended to linens striped, chequered, painted, or printed, or made into buckrams or filletings. Under George III., the bounties were continued, but another bounty of 1.5d. per yard was given on the exportation of British and Irish diapers, huckabacks, and sheetings, when over 1s. 6d. a yard in value, and therefore not entitled to the old bounty.302
So far British and Irish linens were on the same footing as regards bounties on their exportation from Great Britain, but in the tenth year of George III. a bounty was given on British linens which did not extend to Irish. An Act303 of this year granted a bounty on British linens checked and striped exported out of Great Britain to Africa, America, Spain, Portugal,Gibraltar, Minorca, or the East Indies, and this at a time when Ireland was forbidden to give bounties on the exportation of her sail cloth. This new bounty enabled Great Britain to monopolise the trade in checked and striped linens, as she had before done in that of sail cloth.
But even in the article of coarse linens Ireland was at
p.127a disadvantage, for the bounties, although nominally the same for both countries, operated strongly in favour of Great Britain. The Irish manufacturers, who exported their linens to British ports with the idea of re-exporting them and obtaining the bounty, had to undergo an expense of 7 per cent for freight, insurance, factorage, and loss of time incurred, so that barely 0.75d. per yard remained to them of the premium.304 The English and Scotch, on the other hand, lost either nothing or comparatively little of the whole bounty of 1.5d. granted on the exportation of the linens. Still, even with these disadvantages, the Irish linen manufacture increased enormously during the second half of the eighteenth century. Between 1745 and 1771 the exportation from Great Britain of Irish linens entitled to bounty increased from 101,928 yards to 3,450,224 yards, this increase being powerfully aided by the duties levied on the importation of foreign linens.305 During the same years the general exportation of Irish linen cloth to all parts trebled, while a steady decrease took place in the amount of foreign linens imported into Great Britain.306 It is interesting to notice in this connection that four-fifths of the whole quantity of Irish linens imported into Great Britain were consumed there, only one-fifth being reexported, and therefore entitled to bounty.307 But the existence of the bounties certainly stimulated the Irish trade, and very little linen was sent by Ireland to foreign countries. In 1773 the total quantity of Irish linens imported into Great Britain amounted in value to £17,876,617.308
Total Quantities of British and Irish Linens entitled to Bounty exported from Great Britain from the commencement of the Bounties in 1743 until January, 1771.
(Compiled from figures given in the Irish Commons Journals.)
|Year ended||British Linens: Yards||Irish Linens: Yards|
|Lady Day to Christmas 1743||52,779||40,907|
|Year ended 25th March||Linen Cloth: Yards||Linen Cloth: Value £||Linen Yarn: Cwts||Linen Yarn: Value £|
But although the Irish linen manufacture made immense progress during this period, it did not increase so rapidly as the manufacture in England and Scotland. The system of bounties forced forward an extensive manufacture in Great Britain, and even in the case of those coarse linens which received the same bounty as the Irish, the British exportation from 1761 to 1771 increased at a steadier and more rapid rate than the Irish exportation. In Scotland alone the output of linens rose during this period more rapidly than in Ireland, for between 1727 and 1783 the amount of linen manufactured in Scotland increased from two to nineteen million yards.309 This was natural enough, as Scotch linens were, of course, entitled to the same privileges as English, while Irish linens, as we have seen, only came in for a small share of encouragement.
It must be acknowledged that the virtual agreement made by the English Government in 1698 to encourage in every way the Irish linen and hempen manufactures, or at least to refrain from hindering their development, was not fulfilled. Ireland had been given a discretionary power to protect and promote her linen industry in whatever way seemed best to her, but she was not allowed to use this power in certain directions for fear of hindering British interests. In the case of bounties given on the exportation of linens from Great Britain, Ireland came comparatively badly off, partly because of the expenses of transportation, which were necessarily entailed, partly because the bounties only applied to a small class of Irish linens as against a far larger class of British. As regards the linen trade to the plantations, Ireland had no advantage over foreign countries, for a drawback amounting to nearly the whole of the duty laid on foreign linens imported into Great Britain was given on their re-exportation to the plantations.310 In consequence the British
p.132manufacturers imported plain cheap linens from foreign countries, painted or printed them, and exported them in their new condition to the plantations.311 The prohibitive duties laid on Irish linens, checked, striped, painted, or dyed, when imported into Great Britain,312 and the bounties given in the tenth year of George III. on the exportation of British linens of the same kind, certainly hindered the development of the Irish linen manufacture. Printed linens were in great demand among the lower classes in Great Britain, and we are told in 1779 that "they have been gaining ground for many years on the plain linen manufacture both in the home and foreign consumption, which appears by the exports from England and Scotland, and, therefore, the discouragement of the articles in Ireland has given a severe check to our linen manufacture."313 It must be remembered that until 1778 all printed and fancy linens were excluded from the plantations markets; but, of course, the bounties given on the exportation of the same class of linens of British manufacture to the colonies would in any case have prevented the Irish from reaping advantages from any such export trade.
When the first bounties on the exportation of Irish linens from Great Britain were granted, Parliament had imposed an import duty of nearly 30 per cent on foreign linens, and it was this duty which had done so much to encourage the Irish manufacture. Unfortunately it had only been imposed on Dutch linens, as the importation of Russian and German linens was thought to be too small to be taken into account. The heavy duty on Dutch linens caused a decay in the Dutch trade, but the Germans and Russians, who were crippled by no such duty, began,
p.133as time went on, to import large quantities of their linens into Great Britain. Parliament, instead of increasing the duties on German and Russian linens to the amount paid by the Dutch, left them at the old rate.314 Instead of 30 per cent the duty only amounted to 8 per cent or 10 per cent, and a drawback of the whole amount was given on re-exportation. German and Russian linens, if stamped, did not forfeit this drawback, while Irish linens, if stamped, received no drawback. The result was that towards the last quarter of the eighteenth century an increasing quantity of plain foreign linens were imported by British manufacturers for the purposes of printing and staining, and, finally, for re-exportation. In the years immediately before the repeal of the commercial restrictions there were signs of distress in the Irish linen industry. The Irish Parliament had been giving large premiums in support of the manufacture315 but in spite of all the encouragement given to the growth of flax and the raising of flax seed a large sum had annually to be paid for imported seed. In 1779 it was calculated that nearly all the seed sown was imported, and that it cost the country between £70,000 and £80,000 yearly.316 Flax-farming had become a losing trade, and farmers found they could not make a profit even when given premiums. The linen manufacture could never be as profitable to the Irish as their woollen manufacture might well have become. In the linen industry Ireland was subject to much foreign competition, from which she would have been comparatively secure in the woollen. Arthur Young compared the profits arising from both these industries, and came to the interesting conclusion that if the whole
p.134province of Ulster were under sheep the amount that could be obtained from bay yarn spun from their fleeces would be more than the whole value of the linen manufactures exported and consumed at home.317
But the linen industry has certainly been of lasting benefit to Ireland. In spite of temporary distresses and British and foreign competition it continued to develop steadily all through the eighteenth century. The distress in the trade in 1778 and 1779 was, as we shall see later, due to peculiar causes, and with the removal of the trade restrictions all branches of the manufacture made enormous progress. The proud position which the Irish linen industry holds at the present day is a witness to the industrial capacities of the Irish people, and goes some way to show how other industries might have flourished in Ireland had they only met with a little encouragement. Although the Irish linen manufacture did meet with encouragement, it was fostered far less than the linen manufactures in England and Scotland, and that it should have held its own in the face of many difficulties and hindrances was something of an achievement. The only drawback was that it gradually came to be more and more confined to Ulster, and it is probable that the immunities conferred on Protestant weavers by the Irish Parliament had something to say to this. The poverty of Ireland also made it difficult to extend the industry all over the country. Wool was always there, but flax seed had to be imported at great expense. When we take into account all the conditions of the Ireland of the eighteenth century, conditions economic, religious, and political, it is more a matter of surprise that the manufacture should have succeeded so well than that it should have been confined to a comparatively small portion of the country.