During the greater part of the eighteenth century there was a tendency in Ireland to turn large tracts of land into pasture. Side by side with the increase of pasture there took place a decrease in the amount of land under tillage. There were many reasons why grazing and dairy farms should have increased during this period at the expense of arable farms. Pasture farming required little skill, and so was particularly suited to a country like Ireland of small economic development; it required little capital, and so was suitable to a poor country, while the action of the penal laws, by prohibiting the majority of the Irish people from investing their money in land and from taking up profitable tenures, was bound to result in an increase of pasture at the expense of tillage. It was profitable enough for Catholic farmers to lease large tracts of land on short terms, but it would not have been worth their while to make the necessary improvements in the land incident to the cultivation of corn. The whole feeling of insecurity which prevailed in Ireland during a large part of the eighteenth century was also bound to result in a preponderance of grazing lands over arable. The resolution of
p.136the Irish House of Commons in 1735, excepting pasture lands from tithes, worked in the same direction. This exception was resolved upon at the instigation of England in the interests of the English woollen manufacture, and as a result the great graziers, whether Catholic or Protestant, became nearly free of tithes, while practically the whole burden was thrown upon the poorer tillers of the soil.
The Irish provision trade of the eighteenth century was certainly a source of wealth to the country, or rather to certain sections and classes in the country. The greater part of the total exports of Ireland consisted of live stock, meat, skins, and dairy produce. Irish beef was admitted freely everywhere but to England, and there was an enormous exportation of Irish butter, hides, tallow, pork, and bacon to foreign parts and the plantations. In 1759 Irish live stock were once more allowed to be imported into England,318 while in the early part of the reign of George III. three British Acts allowed the importation from Ireland of salted beef, bacon, and butter.319 All this made the Irish provision trade increasingly profitable. At the same time the English Corn Laws acted as a direct discouragement to the cultivation of corn in Ireland. At this time a bounty was given in England on the exportation of corn when the price ranged below 48s. the quarter,320 and during a great part of the eighteenth century English corn was treated as a commodity to be grown for export. This policy gave a great encouragement to English landowners to invest money in the land, and for some time an enormous quantity of all kinds of corn was exported. England exported her bounty-fed corn to Ireland as well as elsewhere; indeed, from 1742 to 1764 eight-ninths of the corn imported into Ireland came from Great Britain.321 This continuous importation of comparatively cheap corn
p.137took away any inducement that the Irish farmer may still have felt to grow corn in any large quantity to meet the home demand. At the same time the English corn laws prohibited the importation of any corn into England unless the price was at or over 48s. the quarter. As English prices scarcely ever ranged anything like as high between the years 1715 and 1765, the English markets were closed to Irish corn, so that the Irish farmer had also no inducement to grow corn for exportation to Great Britain. The profitable nature of the provision trade, combined with the little profit to be obtained from growing corn, is sufficient to account for the decay of tillage during the eighteenth century. But when we look at the peculiar conditions prevailing in Ireland, conditions which must infallibly have led to an increase of pasture lands, we can easily see how absolutely inevitable was this decay of tillage.
In the reign of James I. we know that the Irish exported a good quantity of corn, although a licence was necessary for its exportation at all times.322 The amount of corn grown in the country seems, however, to have greatly decreased all during the seventeenth century, no doubt owing to the great insecurity which prevailed. At the same time the quality of the corn grown deteriorated considerably, for it was soon found that it was not large, firm, or dry enough a grain to be suitable for exportation. After the Cromwellian Wars, the soldiers and adventurers who were given lands in Ireland took to cattle raising rather than corn growing, while the result of the English Cattle Acts in forcing the Irish to fatten their own cattle led to a flourishing provision trade between Ireland and foreign countries and the plantations. Thus the preponderance of pasture lands over arable, established by Cromwell's soldiers and adventurers as a matter of necessity, was perpetuated in the country owing to the large
p.138profit to be obtained from raising meat and dairy produce for foreign markets. After the Revolution a great part of the land was already under pasture. The restrictions placed on the Irish woollen trade produced little change owing to the want of capital, the action of the penal laws, and the profitable smuggling trade in wool to France and other countries. In those few cases where the sheepwalks in Ireland were lessened, the vacant lands were not ploughed and turned into arable; they were made into cattle and dairy farms.323 During this period of the penal laws the well-to-do Catholic farmers, being excluded from taking up profitable tenures, gave up tillage and took to pasture farming.324 They neither drained nor enclosed their farms nor built good houses. Grazing brought quick returns, and so suited them. Pasturage was the one defence of the Papist landlords against informers, so it was natural enough that they should have avoided improvements of every kind, and should have devoted themselves to getting as much as possible out of the land during their short tenures. But the result was that the "sculoag" race in Ireland died out and that agriculture everywhere declined. The law which prevented Catholics from lending money in mortgages on land acted disastrously on the whole country, for it prevented capital from being applied to the land. By the middle of the eighteenth century a fairly large class of wealthy Catholic merchants had grown up through the prosperity of the provision trade, who might have lent their money to landlords for the improvement or reclaiming of waste lands. But the penal laws prevented this possible improvement of the lands of Ireland, and thus led to many evils which might have been avoided. From the commencement of the eighteenth century the
p.139Irish provision trade increased greatly. Irish meat and dairy produce soon became famous for their cheapness and quality. Boate tells us that Irish beef and mutton "in sweetness and savouriness doth surpass the meat of England itself, although England in this particular doth surpass almost all the countries of the world."325 The quantity of beef, butter, tallow, and hides exported from Ireland was generally thought to be greater than that of any other country in Europe,326 but for the first half of the century no satisfactory figures exist as to the exportation of these articles. Under these conditions the prosperity of Cork and other southern towns increased enormously. In the early part of the century Cork was about the same size as Bristol,327 and her exports of beef and butter were greater than that of any town in Ireland or Great Britain. In 1748 it was said that this city exported her provisions to every part of the known world,328 and more especially to Holland, Flanders, France, Spain, and Portugal. During the first half of the century on an average there were generally slaughtered in Cork 100,000 bullocks and cows from August to Christmas in every year.329 The town continued to prosper all during the century. In 1779 Cork was held to be the second city in Ireland, on account of its great provision trade, for except in the article of linen, all its exports were larger than those of Dublin.330 In 1760, nineteen years before, its population had been no less than 60,000. Other towns and districts in the south of Ireland grew prosperous by means of the provision trade. An immense number of sheep and bullocks were bred in
p.140Connaught, especially in the counties of Clare and Galway.331 Waterford exported great quantities of beef and butter,332 while Limerick traded largely in these articles. During the first half of the century provisions remained at absurdly low prices in Ireland. In 1739 we read that good beef was one penny the pound, and other butcher's meat in proportion; butter was 3d. a pound, candles 3 1/2d. a pound; a turkey could be got for 1s., and a goose for 10d .333 Between 1758, however, and 1770 the price of Irish provisions increased by about 40 per cent334 This must have been due in great part to the new market for Irish provisions in British ports, as well as to the greatly increasing demand for them in foreign markets. During this time we can see from the statistics of exports from Ireland kept in the Irish Custom House Books, what large amounts of provisions of all kinds were exported from the country.335 Bacon, beef, butter, bullocks and cows, calveskins, candles, cheese, hides, hops, pork, tongues, and tallow were exported in large quantities to practically every place with which it was worth while to trade. The breeding and fattening of all kinds of live stock became increasingly profitable. Enormous tracts of pasture land were held by single persons, many of whom were Papists. We hear continued complaints during the period on the part of Protestants that the Catholics were engrossing the profits of the provision trade. In Munster and Connaught many single persons of the Catholic persuasion held from two thousand to ten thousand acres of land in their own hands.336 The profits of the provision trade went to the great landowners, Catholic and Protestant, and to
p.141a horde of middlemen. It greatly increased the exports of Ireland and brought wealth into the country; but the wealth remained undistributed, and the peasantry suffered rather than gained by the conditions under which the staple trade of the country was carried on.
It is evident that many evils attended the progress of the trade in provisions. Few tenants were needed on the large grazing and dairy farms, and the result of the continual turning of land into pasture was the gradual eviction of numbers of the peasants. The landlord got his rent without trouble and the grazier profited by the depopulation, but the peasantry starved. The mass of the Irish people became cottiers, because they could not gain a livelihood as agricultural labourers, while the commercial restrictions to which the country was subjected tied them down in all their misery to the land and closed all means of escape. This state of things was noticed soon after the beginning of the eighteenth century. Archbishop King tells us that one of the great causes of Irish poverty was "the great flock of masters who ingross their land, and, making more of it that way than tenants can pay, will not allow them any place in the earth, but force them to barren places and mountains, where they are miserably starved, or oblige them to pay greater rents for worse lands than it is possible for them to pay." As for the profits of the trade, "none have it but the landlords and a few merchants, the rest being fed like beasts, while those few engross the fat of the land."337 A little later Primate Boulter wrote that a traveller in many counties might go ten or fifteen miles without seeing a house or a field of corn.338 Whole villages were sometimes turned adrift,339 and we are told that in travelling from Dublin to Dundalk through a county esteemed the most fruitful in the kingdom, a man would see no improvements
p.142of any kind, no houses fit for gentlemen, no farmers' houses, few fields of corn, nothing but a "bare face of Nature," with a few wretched cottages scattered about, three or four miles apart.340 The evictions which took place in 1761 were especially numerous, and were the immediate and direct cause of the rise of the Whiteboy movement; they were the effect of an increased demand for Irish cattle and beef, owing to a plague among the cattle in England and on the Continent.
A decrease in the amount of corn grown in Ireland naturally went on side by side with the increasing prosperity of pasture and dairy farming. Even as early as 1720 corn was very dear in Ireland, and large quantities were imported from London.341 King tells us that this was due to the "Popish farmers," who monopolised their grain and would not sell it at reasonable prices to the Protestant bakers. The latter therefore made an agreement with the farmers in England to furnish them with wheat throughout the year; "the ill-usage they meet with from the farmers puts them on this: all the great farmers near Dublin being Papists, they first furnished the Popish bakers with the best of their grain, and either let the few Protestants of that trade have none or the refuse."Note reference missing342
Whether King was right or not as to the special reasons for the large importation of corn in this year, it is evident that owing to the rapidly decreasing amount of corn grown in the country, prices were bound to rise, and it was naturally becoming more profitable for Irish bakers to import the bounty-fed English corn at moderate prices instead of buying dear Irish corn. Just at this time Irish landlords were everywhere forbidding the tenants to plough, as they wished to have all their land free for grazing purposes. "Of late," King writes in 1720, the
p.143plough is everywhere laid aside, and generally in the late leases the landlords have obliged the tenants not to plough; one consequence of which is that all manner of grain has been dearer in Dublin than in London, and several times at double the price, insomuch that we had out of England last year 100,000 barrels of wheat from 20s. to 24s. the barrel; the land that formerly was ploughed is now turned into grazing for bullocks and dry cattle."343 Most of the leases in the counties of Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare, Carlow, Meath, and Kilkenny were subject to these restrictions on ploughing, so it was little wonder that the amount of corn grown in the country steadily decreased while its price rose. In the time of Primate Boulter it was impossible to raise enough corn in Ireland to supply the wants of the people, even though the mass of the Irish lived on potatoes and consumed no bread at all.
About 1725 this decrease of tillage was so great that the Irish Parliament at last took alarm, and two years later, during a time of famine and general distress, a Bill was brought into Parliament for the compulsory tillage of five out of every 100 acres under cultivation. The English Government were with some difficulty induced to consent to this Bill, and it passed the House.344 Unfortunately it was soon found that the law was a dead letter and could not be enforced,345 and the famines of 1741 and 1742 were worse than those of 1727 and 1728.346 The Dublin Society, which was founded in 1731, now tried to do something for Irish agriculture. It gave premiums for agricultural improvements and set up model farms; it popularised new agricultural methods and issued continual directions and explanations to farmers concerning new processes. But these efforts could hardly be successful under economic
p.144and social conditions which placed such an enormous premium on pasture farming. In times of distress the Irish Parliament continued to pass tentative measures with a view to promote tillage, but these schemes were generally rendered useless by a Government which would allow of nothing that might even indirectly injure the English landed interest, while little help was given in the matter by the Irish landlords, who always had an inclination for pasture farming as affording the quickest returns. No Irish farmer had the smallest encouragement to grow corn. He was discouraged by the English Corn Laws, which laid heavy duties on the importation of corn into Great Britain, by the want of bounties in Ireland on the exportation of corn, by the influx of corn from England occasioned by the English bounties, and by the fact that potatoes, not bread, was increasingly becoming the food of the mass of the people.347 It is true that a few small bounties were given by the Irish Parliament on the exportation of corn, but they were very insignificant, while no attempt was made to prevent the importation of foreign corn. The first bounties of this kind were given by the Irish Parliament in 1708,348 when a bounty of 1s. 6d. the quarter was granted on wheat exported when the price was at or under 14s. Bounties were also granted on the exportation of barley and malt when the price was under a certain sum the quarter. But these efforts were perfectly useless, and could have no effect in face of the large bounties given in England at this time on the exportation of all kinds of grain. These bounties were 5s. the quarter on wheat exported at or under 48s., and proportionate bounties on rye and malt when the prices were at or under certain sums. In England, except in famine years, wheat was always under 48s. during this
p.145period, whereas in Ireland wheat was scarcely ever as low as 14s.349 It was absurd to suppose that in the existing state of Irish agriculture Irish wheat could ever be sold at 20s. a quarter less in price than English wheat. And in any case these early bounties on the exportation of corn from Ireland were bound to be inefficacious, because they were not combined as in England with high duties on the importation of corn.
In 1756 the Irish corn bounties granted in 1708 were slightly augmented.350 This augmentation seems, however, to have been fallacious owing to an alteration in the Irish system of weights and measures,351 while as yet no duties were levied on corn imported into the country. But in 1758 the Irish Parliament made its first real effort to promote tillage. In this year the first bounties were granted on the inland carriage of corn to Dublin, and this seems to have certainly had a small effect in checking the influx of British corn into Ireland. The imports of English corn into Dublin continued, however, to greatly exceed the exports of Irish corn, and so, nine years later, in 1767, a small bounty was given by the Irish Parliament on the carriage of Irish corn coastways to Dublin.352 This was a wise measure, and combined with the bounties on the inland carriage, had some effect in promoting tillage, although this effect was of course very gradual. Until 1772, in spite of these efforts, Ireland continued to import far more corn than she exported; it was not until after that year that the tide turned and that Ireland began to export more corn than she imported.
This change in the corn trade between England and Ireland may have been partly due to an increase of bounties on the export of Irish corn which took place in
p.1461773,353 but it was probably much more due to a decline in the English corn trade. From 1715 to 1765, or perhaps a little later, Great Britain had been able to grow corn for foreign exportation. But between the years 1766 and 1773 a change began, and the importation of corn into the country began to exceed its exportation.354 This change seems to have been mainly caused by an increase of population, for from about 1760 the people of Great Britain increased very rapidly. From 1715 to 1762 the range of prices of British corn had been very low, generally about 36s. the quarter. But afterwards, the increasing demand at home, owing to the growth of population, began to tell, and the average price from 1763 to 1792 was about 48s. the quarter;355 and this was the price at which bounties on the exportation of corn ceased and at which importation was allowed to begin. There was an extraordinary drop in the amount of corn imported into Ireland after the year 1772, and from that time Ireland began to export corn in considerable quantities, although it was not until after 1784 that a great export trade in Irish corn sprang up.356 Part of this export went to Great Britain in those years when the price of British corn was particularly high, but prior to 1784 most of it went abroad.
It was not, indeed, till the period subsequent to 1784 that Ireland began to be an arable rather than a pasture country. Before that date, although Ireland exported considerable quantities of corn, she was still obliged to import a certain amount; but after that date it was quite possible for the Irish people to have supplied all their wants and at the same time to have exported a large surplus abroad. The Irish Corn Laws of 1784, generally
p.147called Foster's Corn Laws, certainly proved an effective measure, and did much to turn Ireland into an arable country. These laws357 prohibited the exportation of wheat when its price was at 30s. the quarter, of rye when at 25s., of barley when at 14s. 6d., and of oats when at 11s., and gave bounties on the exportation of all these different kinds of grain when their prices ranged below the above-mentioned sums. They also imposed a duty of 10s. on every barrel of wheat imported when the price was under 30s. at the place of import, 10s. on every barrel of rye when the price was under 26s., and 5s. on every barrel of oats when the price was under 11s. When the prices were above all these mentioned, a duty of 2d. only was placed on every barrel of grain imported. An exception, however, was made in favour of grain imported into Dublin from Great Britain, as only a duty of 2d. the barrel was levied on British grain when the prices at Dublin were at lower rates than those at which the importation of foreign grain was allowed to begin; wheat had to be under 30s. and not less than 27s., rye under 26s. and not less than 23s., barley under 14s. 6d. and not less than 13s. 6d., and oats under 11s. and not less than 10s. A considerable advantage was thus given to British grain, but as England was now exporting less and less grain of any kind into Ireland, and as bounties were still given on the carriage of Irish corn both coastways and by land to Dublin, little competition from Great Britain was feared. The Act of 1784 also granted bounties on the importation of Irish oats and oatmeal into Ulster whenever the exportation of these food stuffs from that province should be forbidden.
The great extension of tillage, which was in great part due to the Irish Corn Laws, led to an increased division of labour, to higher wages, and to a rise in the rent of land. How far the increase of tillage led to a decrease of pasture is a little difficult to decide. Eventually it seems
p.148to have done so, but the result was not immediately noticeable. Newenham, writing in 1809, says that the extension of tillage due to the Corn Laws of 1784 was not made at the expense of pasture, and, indeed, that for some time the quantity of pasture land even increased owing to the cultivation of waste lands.358 Certainly, if we look at the statistics of the exportation of provisions from Ireland after 1784 we see no decrease in the amount exported as a whole.359 Although there was a slight falling off in the export of beef,360 this was more than balanced by a considerable increase in the exportation of butter and a very large increase in that of pork and bacon,361 and of live bullocks, cows, and hogs. The great growth in the exportation of corn from Ireland in the years immediately succeeding the Corn Acts was not coincident with a falling off in the exportation of live stock, meat, or dairy produce. At the same time, it is true that large pasture lands were sometimes broken up into small arable farms even in the period prior to the Union, although a good deal of hitherto waste land was now enclosed for tillage. The truth was that the removal of restrictions on the commerce of Ireland in 1780 gave an impetus to all branches of trade, even to those which had not directly suffered from English commercial policy. The new condition of things stimulated the trade in meat and dairy produce as well as in everything else, so that more was obtained from a certain area of pasture land than before. From 1785 to 1795 the prosperity of Ireland was unusual, and although
p.149there may have been even during these early years some decline in the total amount of land under pasture,362 this led to no falling off in the quantities of live stock, meat, and dairy produce exported from Ireland. Indeed, until the Union these quantities increased, while for twenty years after the Union there was very little falling off.
All contemporaries were of the opinion that the Corn Laws of 1784 proved extremely beneficial to Ireland. From this time until the period subsequent to the Union we hear of little acute distress even in the poorest rural districts. Corn mills sprang up everywhere, and the corn trade increased enormously. Side by side with this great growth in the exportation of corn from Ireland there was a steady diminution in the amount of grain imported into the country, except in one or two years of scarcity.363 Of course, it must not be supposed that the great growth of the Irish corn trade was altogether due to Foster's Corn Laws. We have already seen that a considerable increase in the exportation of corn from Ireland began as early as 1773, just about the time when England had definitely ceased to be a corn-exporting country and had become a corn-importing one. This process, was, however, at first gradual, and it was not until after 1784 that England began to import corn in very large quantities. For some time no advantage was given to Ireland as against other countries in the corn trade with Great Britain, but the new trade gave her an opportunity of which she was now in a position to avail herself, for the price of corn in England rose so rapidly that the British markets became permanently open to the importation of corn at low duties. The French wars increased prices in Great Britain to nearly famine rate, and the profits of Irish farming rose greatly. Ireland was so close to the English coast that she could export her corn there at comparatively little cost,
p.150while the Irish bounties stimulated the trade. Foster's Act was passed just at the time when, owing to circumstances in Great Britain, Ireland had an opportunity of establishing a flourishing trade in corn. The Act turned Irish agriculture into the profitable direction indicated by the new economic conditions, and increased the already great encouragement to export corn to Great Britain. During the last few years of the eighteenth century the ports of Great Britain were open to wheat from Ireland at 2s. the quarter cheaper than from foreign countries in return for the preference given to the importation into Ireland of British corn over foreign, and from this time till the repeal of the English Corn Laws in 1846 Ireland drove a very thriving trade with Great Britain in wheat and grain of all kinds.
But the Irish Corn Laws of 1784 led indirectly to certain evils. In the long run the bounties granted on the exportation of corn, combined with the already great inducement given to the Irish corn trade through the new conditions in England, led to an excessive subdivision of farms and to the ruinous system of partnership leases. This was of course due to the fact that there was so little capital in Ireland that it was practically impossible to find tenants capable of cultivating and occupying large tillage farms. This tendency to subdivide farms was emphasised by the existing custom of gavelkind which hitherto had acted in a harmless manner owing to the circumstances of the country. It was also emphasised by the legislation of the last years of the eighteenth century which, by removing the Roman Catholic disabilities in regard to property and extending to Catholics the 40s. franchise, led the landlords to greatly increase the number of holdings. This turning of the land into very small farms gave a great encouragement to the growth of population. The new occupiers of arable land were very poor, and so they wanted to buy as much cheap labour as possible. They therefore allotted small pieces of ground to
p.151the peasantry on which to build cabins and raise potatoes. Once a sufficient supply of cheap labour had been obtained in this way it was found impossible to check the stimulus which had been given to the growth of population, for new habits and customs had by this time been formed conducive to the increase of the peasant class. During the first half of the nineteenth century the amount of pasture land in Ireland decreased steadily, for the economic circumstances of the time enabled the landlords to exact exorbitant rents for very small pieces of ground. On the whole, although the Corn Laws of 1784 seemed at the time productive of much good, as matters afterwards turned out they offered almost too great a stimulus to arable cultivation, bearing in mind the important fact that the great mass of the people were dependent on agriculture and that there was little industrial life in the country. The resulting evils were due to peculiar conditions prevailing in Irelandto the custom of gavelkind and to the small amount of capital possessed by the whole people. The Corn Laws, acting on the special circumstances in which Ireland found herself, certainly led in the long run to an excessive subdivision of farms, to bad modes of cultivation, yielding quick returns, and to a disastrous increase in the population of the country. Past events and conditions had thrown the Irish peasantry so entirely on the land that there was little escape for them from the miserable situation in which they were placed. It was now more especially that the full evils due to the absence of industrial life among the great majority of the Irish people began to appear in their true light.
|Year ended 25th March||Wheat exported: Qtrs||Other corn exported: Qtrs||Wheat imported: Qtrs||Other corn imported: Qtrs|