During the last twelve or thirteen years notable changes have taken place in the economic condition of Ireland. In 1890 Mr. Horace Plunkett set definitely to work to preach in Ireland the doctrine of agricultural co-operation and those scientific methods of agriculture which had enabled other countries to monopolise the English markets in food-stuffs. In 1891 the Congested Districts Board was established in order to better the conditions of life prevailing among the inhabitants of the poorest districts in western Ireland. In 1896 came the Recess Committee's Report, and finally, in the Session of 1899, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Gerald Balfour, introduced and carried through Parliament a Bill for the establishment of a Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland, which embodied the principal features of the Report but at the same time adapted them to the new conditions created by the Irish Local Government Act of 1898. The consequence of all this has been a remarkable development, more especially in the last six years, of the agricultural and industrial life of Ireland. The Congested Districts Board has done splendid work: improving and enlarging holdings, improving live stock and methods of cultivation, establishing the fishing industry on a secure and self-supporting basis, and developing other suitable industries, such as spinning, weaving, lace making, and
p.423basket work. The Irish Agricultural Organization Society has been doing much the same work over a wider area, and the co-operative system is now fairly established in the country. The creamery branch of the movement is proving a pre-eminent success, and has already improved Ireland's position upon the English butter market. Other branches, such as the sale of bacon, pigs, and of eggs and poultry, are also meeting with success, and the agricultural banks, which have been established in considerable numbers on the Raiffeisen principles, are placing capital at the disposal of the small farmer and labourer on easy terms. The task of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction is to do throughout the whole of Ireland what is being done in certain poor districts by the Congested Districts Board, and arrangements have been made to prevent any overlapping in the work of the Department and the Board. Even during the few years of its existence the Department of Agriculture has done good work, and perhaps not the least interesting result of this work was the splendid section of exhibits brought together for the Cork Exhibition last year. Some of the exhibits gave examples of industries already started in Ireland, of others capable of imitation, and of others still which, whether capable of imitation or not, are at least full of suggestion and instruction for Irish industrial pioneers. On the whole, it may be said that the efforts now being made in Ireland, whether by private enterprise or by means of State help, may eventually go some way to change Ireland from a country of poverty and hopelessness into one possessed of a certain amount of material comfort. The new Land Act gives to a large section of the Irish people a further chance of ameliorating their economic condition, and may be the cause of abolishing much of that chronic discontent which now hampers economic progress. The industrial revival has not only a material side to it; it has a moral side also, for its task is to awaken a spirit of self-help and to do away with that terrible inertia the favourite
p.424maxim of which is the familiar "Sure, it will do!" The essence of the co-operative system is the creation of harmony between classes hitherto divided by political opinions and religious creeds, and the union of all Irishmen in the pursuit of one common object-the benefit of Ireland.
It is, of course, a matter of serious doubt whether Ireland by any healthy process of development can ever become a great industrial nation in the accepted meaning of the term. Her peculiar history has hampered her industrial progress, and it is not likely that she will ever become the serious rival of countries like England, Germany, or the United States. But then it is beginning to be a matter also of serious doubt whether industrialism as it exists in these countries is healthy at all. Ireland is free from those problems which agitate us in England and which result from the establishment of huge working populations in large towns; and the development of many large towns in Ireland seems at present neither possible nor desirable. But the continuous stream of emigration shows that in Ireland as well as in Great Britain the desire, or rather the necessity, for town life is a factor which must be taken into account. Emigration is the most serious danger to the economic development of Ireland and the only way in which it can be checked is by increasing the numbers and resources of the smaller Irish towns or by increasing the amenities and comforts of rural life through the promotion of cottage industries. Ireland is starting her industries just at a time when the experience of England warns her what to avoid, and she can therefore steer clear of those forms of industry in which unhealthy or underpaid labour is inevitable. The basis upon which Irish industries can best thrive seems to be that of co-operation, the kind of co-operation which has proved so successful in Irish agriculture, and which is now being applied to some minor industries. The successful establishment in England of the co-operative system
p.425has been hindered by the existence of many peculiar conditions and traditions; but over the greater part of Ireland industrial life is practically non-existent, and there is, therefore, more chance of establishing industries on a strictly ethical basis. It is difficult to prophesy as to the lines along which Irish industrial development will proceed, for although the absence of coal and heavy minerals in Ireland renders the country not particularly suited for the factory system as established in England, the use of water power may in the future be made to subserve the uses to which power in other forms is applied. Ireland also possesses potential riches in her clays, while the adaptation and development of electricity may lead to changes in the methods of industry all over the world. But for the present, at any rate, Irish industrial development mainly lies in the direction of minor industries, and especially of cottage industries. In a country like Ireland, where the inhabitants subsist chiefly through farming, the establishment of cottage industries subsidiary to agriculture is of immense importance. The application of machinery to agriculture and its reorganisation on co-operative lines have set free much surplus labour of the farming classes in general and of the Irish peasant women in particular. What is wanted more than anything else to improve the condition of the mass of the Irish people is the successful establishment of such rural industries as may occupy the spare time of the farmers and their wives and daughters, and make all the difference between moderate comfort and acute poverty. Land is no use to a pauper, and the sense of undivided ownership does not of itself make a man prosperous. The creation in the near future of a peasant proprietary over the length and breadth of Ireland is practically certain, but this alone would be of little permanent benefit to the Irish people were it not for the fact that the present reorganisation of agricultural industry on co-operative lines and the revival and creation of minor industries to supplement agriculture may
p.426enable this peasant proprietary to exist in some sort of material comfort, and keep itself free from the old curse of the money-lender.
The co-operative movement in Ireland is altogether different from the co-operative movement in England. In England it began among the artisans in the towns; in Ireland it began among the agricultural population. In England at the present day it is distributive; in Ireland it is productive. When Mr. Horace Plunkett started the movement in Ireland he thought of following on English lines, and therefore set up a co-operative store in County Meath on the English model. But very soon he came to the conclusion that the establishment of co-operative stores would in itself be of little benefit to the country, and that co-operation could only work for good in its effects upon agriculture as the national industry. A recent invention had changed butter-making from a home to a factory industry, and this transformation in the dairying industry presented a good opportunity for the first experiment in agricultural co-operation. There was no idea of joint ownership or joint management of farming lands; the idea was merely associations of farmers for the improvement of every branch of agricultural industry. Mr. Plunkett had naturally immense difficulties to cope with, for none in England, and only a few in Ireland, believed in the possible success of his scheme. But Mr. Plunkett had confidence in the intelligence of the Irish farmers, and he was sure of their honesty and business capacity. Events proved that he was right, and that those who believed Irish farmers to be incapable of organisation and combination were wrong. In the autumn of 1889 a large meeting of farmers was held in County Limerick to discuss the scheme of a Co-operative Dairy Society, and in 1890 the task of introducing co-operative methods into Irish agriculture was definitely begun. It started with the dairying districts of Munster. In spite of their many advantages, these districts had been beaten by the Danes,
p.427and Danish butter had taken the place of Irish in the English market. Curiously enough, it was not until Mr. Plunkett and his friends had definitely thought out the idea of co-operation, as applied to agriculture, that it was discovered that the success of Danish butter was due to the application of co-operative principles, for these principles had led to improved methods in the creamery system and to the perfected machinery and expert skill applied to the manufacture of creamery butter. The discovery made the Irish pioneers more sure of success, and the first co-operative creamery, founded and registered in 1890, was felt to be the beginning of a national economic movement. The members of the society contributed the capital necessary for the buildings and plant, each member taking a number of £1 shares, according to the number of cows kept by him for dairy purposes. On this capital 5per cent dividends were to be paid out of profits, and the rest of the profits was to be divided among the members in proportion to the quantity of milk which each had supplied to the creamery. By 1894 there were in existence thirty-three co-operative creameries established on these lines, and in this year "auxiliaries," as they were called, began to be formed. These are societies which separate the milk from the cream, and send the latter to be churned at a central creamery. Last year there were in existence 193 central creameries, and 77 auxiliaries.852 An enormous quantity of butter is turned out, and a good profit made. At the end of 1900 the total membership of these dairy societies amounted to 26,577, and there was £120,485 invested by Irish farmers in this branch of their industry.853 The average yield of butter from the milk has greatly increased, and Irish butter is beginning to regain its old position in the market. The new creamery system does not only benefit the farmerit also benefits the labourer by giving him an opportunity of becoming a cow-owner.
p.428A labourer can send his milk to the neighbouring auxiliary, and gets for it a much better price than he formerly obtained from the local dealer. The gain per cow on the old butter-making methods is generally estimated at 30s. per annum.854 Above all, the creamery system frees the small occupiers and labourers from the tyranny of the retail shopkeepers. Before the co-operative movement sprang into existence a man was forced to buy his groceries at extravagant prices from the local shopkeeper, giving perhaps one-third more for a pound of tea than its proper price simply because the shopkeeper was the only available purchaser for his milk, butter, or eggs. Now a man sends his milk to a creamery and his eggs to a co-operative poultry depot, and he need not purchase from the local dealer if the latter's prices are unreasonable. The new system places the small farmers and labourers on terms of equality with the substantial farmer, for the creamery will give them as much per gallon for milk of the same quality as it does to the big man, will extract as much butter for every gallon of their milk, and will sell the butter for them at a fixed price according to its quality.855
After the creameries had begun to put their butter on the market they commenced marketing it themselves, and in 1892 several of the local societies federated themselves into a selling society, with a head office at Limerick, and offices and stores in Manchester. At first there were disasters; the society became involved in lawsuits, contracted bad debts, and in the first year lost all its capital. But the scheme was persevered in with great tenacity, and eventually proved successful. In three years the society had made good its early losses, and is now established on a sound financial basis.
p.429Before the end of 1894 a number of "agricultural societies" had been founded; last year they numbered 111, and their chief function is the cheapening of production by the purchase of good seed and of implements and general farming requisites. They also make it their business to improve live stock, and in some cases these agricultural societies affiliate themselves to an agency society and effect the sale of their agricultural produce and the purchase of their implements through its offices. The agency society sells for the affiliated societies not only butter, but eggs, poultry, and any other farm produce that can be profitably disposed of. An important branch of business has recently been developed by the agricultural societies: this is the sale of bacon pigs. The societies send their pigs direct to the curers, receiving payment for each pig according to its weight and quality. The curer allows a commission of 1s. to the society for every pig sent to him, and this commission is an important item in the society's funds. The system has been found to work well, and members of the societies in the most remote districts get better prices for their pigs than in the days when they were dependent on individual bargaining.
There are also a number of co-operative poultry societies,856 whose business is to improve the breeds of poultry, to teach scientific methods of fattening and rearing poultry, and to improve the methods of placing poultry and eggs on the market. The Department of Agriculture employs poultry experts, who give technical instruction to the members of the societies, and especially teach them the Danish method of grading and packing eggs for export. Besides the poultry societies proper, many of the dairy and agricultural societies have taken the business up. The Irish export trade in eggs has had to encounter many difficulties, but it is bound to prosper
p.430eventually under the present system on account of the real excellence of Irish eggs.
Besides the societies for the production, sale, and purchase of agricultural produce, there are seventy-eight miscellaneous societies, which carry on various rural industries, from flax-scutching to the making of lace on co-operative lines. There are twenty-three co-operative societies of lace-workers, which are supplied with designs by a lace depot in Dublin. The depot also takes their lace and sells it, and after defraying all expenses gives to each society of workers a bonus in proportion to the value of the lace it has supplied. Sales of lace are also carried on in London by the Irish Industries Association. The co-operative needlework society at Dalkey turns out particularly beautiful ecclesiastical embroidery, and in many other minor industries the co-operative system is spreading. Lastly, there are eighty-seven agricultural banks, which exist for the sole purpose of creating funds to be lent out to their members. No loan is made until the committee of the particular bank is convinced that the purpose to which it is to be applied is a productive one, and that the borrower is certain to repay it. Loans are, therefore, made on the character of the borrowers. As the banks are registered with unlimited liability every memberand every borrower is a memberbecomes interested in the repayment of every loan. There have been no cases of failure to pay, and even cases of unpunctual repayment are rare, although thousands of loans have been made to very small men. The system has spread over the whole of Ireland, but flourishes best and does most good in the poorest districts. The Irish agriculturist, whether occupier or labourer, instead of borrowing to spend, now borrows to make; he can tide over a bad season, he is rendered independent of the money-lender, and he is given by his fellows a chance of becoming a producer of wealth. The good economic and social effects of the system of co-operation, whether applied to agriculture,
p.431to minor industries, or to banking, can hardly be exaggerated. Public spirit is the great thing needful in Ireland, and wherever a co-operative bank, a creamery, or a poultry society is formed, a blow is given to that inherent feeling of suspicion which is so characteristic of the Irishman, and a growing spirit of self-reliance begins to remove the old idea that all initiative must come from the State. Their history has naturally taught the Irish people to attribute their industrial shortcomings to the action of the State, and, therefore, anything which shows them that their material progress is now to a great extent dependent on their own efforts is invaluable.
But besides the reorganisation and revival in agriculture there has also been a real revival in rural industries. This progress is quite recent, and is, to a large extent, the work of the Congested Districts Board, assisted by private persons, while now the task has been taken up by the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. The woollen hand-weaving industry is the most important. We have seen how it existed in Ireland from time immemorial, but how after the early part of the nineteenth century it sank into decay. But the progress recently made has been great. The industry flourishes all along the western coast, from Donegal to Kerry, where the people generally weave their own stuffs and dye them with those lichens and plants which the Irish peasant has always known how to use. In these western counties there is mountain grazing for sheep, and much labour running to waste in the winter months, while the peasantry have an inherited taste for weaving. As a rule, home-spun cloth is merely produced for local use, although it is finding its way more and more into the Dublin and London markets, and there has begun to be a considerable demand amongst ladies for Irish homespuns owing to their delicious softness and great durability. In South Donegal, however, great quantities of handwoven cloth is produced for sale outside the district, and
p.432the manufacture is conducted on strictly business lines. Hand-made cloth goes every month from the fairs of Ardara and Carrick to many of the chief towns of Europe and America, and at present the demand is good and prices high. The industry was brought to its prosperous condition chiefly through the efforts of the Congested Districts Board, who, in 1893, introduced new looms in place of the antiquated ones then in use, receiving payment for them by instalments, provided instruction for their use, and for a short time gave a bonus on work of exceptionally good quality. The special arrangements for instruction and bonus-giving have now been discontinued and the industry thrives without outside assistance. The Board is now extending the use of the new looms into the more southern counties, and a school of instruction has been opened at Leenane, in Connemara. All over County Galway a soft durable white flannel is made. It is worn by the children in its natural state, but the women dye it red, dark blue, and black for their own use. Some of the flannel may be seen in the drapers' shops in Galway, but little is as yet sold outside the county. In Kerry, strong home-spuns are woven, but they have not the richness of colouring possessed by the Donegal and Galway stuffs. It is thought that only instruction and encouragement is needed to enable the people of Galway, Mayo, and Kerry to reap the same profit from weaving as the Donegal peasants.857 At present, there certainly seems to be a future before hand-made stuffs. Just now the Irish lace-making industry is in a prosperous condition. There is a keen demand in the United Kingdom for hand-made lace, and although the majority of people must always content themselves with the machine-made article on account of its cheapness, there will always be a certain number of persons who can afford to indulge their taste for beauty. Twenty years ago, the Irish lace-making industry had sunk to a low position.
p.433The lace made was coarse, and the designs bad and unoriginal, while the industry had altogether lost touch with the requirements of fashion. But since 1883 various private persons have taken the matter up, and they, as well as the Congested Districts Board and the Department of Agriculture, keep the convent schools, where the lace is chiefly made, acquainted with new designs and new fashions. The Royal Dublin Society does much to stimulate the industry by its annual exhibition of lace among other art industries at Ballsbridge as well as by the prizes it offers to makers of the most beautiful pieces of lace. The Irish lace-making industry must, however, always depend on outside aid, for the convent schools are far from the centres of industry, and the peasant girls who work in their own homes are no more able than the nuns to acquaint themselves with the needs of the market. In no industry is it so necessary to be constantly changing designs and patterns, and a lace collar, cape, coat, or overskirt, however beautiful the execution and design may be, cannot be sold unless it is made in the shape and style demanded by the fashion of the time. In the congested districts the Board can always take care that this assistance is given to the lace workers; and, no doubt, in other parts of Ireland, as the numbers of co-operative societies increase, it will be more easy for the workers to get the exact designs that are wanted and to take care that these designs are constantly changed. In these days of a revival in the taste for beauty in dress and decoration, a future should lie before the Irish art industries and especially before the lace-making industry.
Hand weaving and lace-making are the principal rural industries of Ireland; but there are many others, some of which are carried on in the workers' own homes and others in village workshops. The chief of these are hand knitting, hand embroidery, carpet-making, basket-making, iron-work, stained glass, wood-carving, stone and marble carving, bookbinding and leather-work, metal repousse
p.434work, cabinet-making, porcelain, and silver and goldsmiths' work. Nothing approaching the excellence of Irish hand embroidery is to be found anywhere in Great Britain, and it is not rivalled in beauty even by the embroideries of France or Belgium. The hand-tufted carpet industry in Ireland is one of growing importance. It was introduced a few years ago into Killybegs, County Donegal, by a Scotch firm, and there are now 300 workers employed at this place and at Kilcar, also in County Donegal. The carpets are made entirely by hand, in large, airy workshops, as the looms could, of course, not be got inside the ordinary small cottage. They are exquisite in design and colour, and are rapidly establishing themselves in the London market. Other art and cottage industries are carried on with more or less success, but are still on a comparatively small scale. At Fivemiletown, in County Tyrone, there are various flourishing cottage industries in the way of embroidery and metalwork. Basket-work is carried on as a cottage industry in several places in the west and south of Ireland; at Letterfrack, in Connemara, the industry is especially flourishing. There is no doubt that one great way to improve the condition of agricultural Ireland is the development of these cottage and art industries. With the exception of the home-spun woollen industry and the lace-making industry they are still on a small scale, but taken in the bulk they give a good deal of subsidiary employment, and there is reason to believe that before long they will increase greatly.
Another way in which the resources of Ireland are being developed is in the promotion of sea fisheries. This also has been the work of the Congested Districts Board, for the Irish fisheries lie along the coasts of many of the congested districts. The Board started operations in 1893, in Galway Bay, where transit facilities were comparatively favourable. Boats were provided, and seven Arklow crews who were accustomed to deep-sea fishing were hired to come and fish for mackerel off the Aran
p.435Islands in April and May. The Galway fishermen did not believe in the possibility of catching mackerel in the spring, for they had only availed themselves of the autumn mackerel fishery. But the Board brought a steamer to help the Arklow men, and provided boats, nets, a cargo of ice, and boxes in which to pack the fish. At last, after several days of disappointment, the fish came; the Galwaymen were convinced, and from that time were glad to avail themselves of the Board's help. The Board still supplies boats, by means of loans repayable by the fishermen in half-yearly instalments, but otherwise the mackerel fishery off the Aran Islands stands on a self-supporting basis. The Board no longer acts as the sole buyer, and private traders send their steamers and agents to purchase fish. Up to last year private traders were only allowed to use the Board's curing stations on the condition that the price they paid for the fish did not go below a certain minimum sum, but this year the Board is no longer to interfere in the matter of price, and the fishermen will be left to the competition of the open market.858 The same methods have been applied by the Board to the development of the fishing industry in other parts of western Ireland. A new mackerel fishery has been opened in Blacksod Bay; there is an important herring fishery off the coast of Donegal, where the take, unfortunately, fluctuates, but has sometimes been very large; and the conger, skate, and cod fishery at Aran is progressing. Up to 1900 the mackerel fishery on the south coast of Ireland was flourishing, but in that year mackerel suddenly returned to the American coasts, and the price of Irish mackerel fell enormously. The result has been a decline in the trade, and for the present there seems little prospect of its revival. England supplies her own mackerel, and there is little chance of finding a market
p.436for Irish mackerel on the Continent owing to the Customs duties on imported fish.
One of the most important parts of the work of the Board is the instruction given in net-making, barrel-making, and boat-building. There are cooperages at two centres in Donegal, where a large number of barrels are turned out, and others in Cork and Kerry, while large fishing vessels are built on the coasts of Connemara and Donegal. It is hardly necessary to point out how important is this work of the Board in developing the Irish fishing industry, and in developing it, too, on such practical lines as to make it eventually altogether self-supporting. In some of the places where the industry is being developed a comparatively large population lives on barren ground, supporting itself by annual emigration to England or Scotland in harvest-time. The holdings of these people are their homes, to which they return when they have made enough money to support themselves for the year; they are not and cannot be their means of livelihood. But the development of the fisheries means that these people can earn enough to support themselves at home without seeking work elsewhere. It is to be hoped that a place like Achill Island, where the conditions of living are about as bad as they can be, may in time be converted by the Board into a fishing centre. Irishmen in the past have never been great deep-sea fishermen, and have contented themselves with fishing near the coast, except for the short period at the end of the eighteenth century when the Irish Parliament began to develop deep-sea fishing. But the prosperity of the Irish fishing industry was short-lived, and disappeared in the early part of the following century. Until the advent of the Congested Districts Board Irish boats were totally unfit for deep-sea fishing. But now the men on the western coast are taking to the industry well, and only time and the splendidly practical methods of the Board are necessary for its development.
The economic progress of Ireland seems to be bound up with the development of the great national industry of agriculture and with the promotion of the Irish fisheries, and of various rural industries as supplementing agriculture. The north-east of Ireland, the districts surrounding Belfast and other large towns, presents a different kind of economic development, and one that is akin to that proceeding in England, while Dublin, with its professional and business population, stands on a plane by itself. But these towns and districts form but a small part of Ireland, and in them the exclusively Irish problem does not appear. Broadly speaking, Ireland is an agricultural country, and therefore anything which has for its object the improvement of the condition of the Irish people must be directed towards the furtherance of the national industry or towards enabling those persons dependent on agriculture to supplement their agricultural earnings by profits arising from fishing and from cottage and art industries. In agriculture machine labour is taking the place of manual labour, and many agricultural processes can be better carried on in factories than in the farmers' homes. No individual farmer can afford to supply himself with the new expensive plant which is now required, and the one solution of the problem in Ireland is co-operation, which enables farmers, working together, to get the best plant going. In England matters are different, for there the farms are large and the farmer is a capitalist. But in Ireland the majority of the farms are small, many very small, and a system of peasant proprietorship will gradually be created. Under present economic conditions a peasant proprietor taken by himself is doomed to failure, but a peasant proprietary acting together on co-operative principles may meet with success. Organisation for a common object and mutual help is all that is needed in order to raise the peasant owner from an isolated position to a competitive level from which he can carry on his industry on the most advanced lines. If the new Irish Land Act had been passed twenty or thirty
p.438years ago, it could have resulted in nothing but bitter disappointment and failure; the new peasant owner would have come under the influence of the money-lender and the last state of things would have been worse than the first. Now the Bill becomes law there is at least a good chance of it working successfully, simply because the Irish agriculturist is slowly being raised to a better material condition.
At present what is urgently needed is to put a stop to the disastrous emigration which each year robs Ireland of her best and strongest men and women. There is no doubt that the settlement of the land question may do much to check this emigration, just because present economic conditions in Ireland render possible the establishment of a peasant proprietary possessed of some degree of material comfort. It is poverty that has all along been the chief cause of Irish emigration. Once ameliorate the condition of the people and they will become less anxious to leave their country, industrial development will proceed, and the grievance of local taxation will diminish. The revival and creation of cottage industries must make rural life more varied and cheerful, and the system of co-operation can in itself increase the amenities of social intercourse. The resources of Ireland, in fact, should be developed along those lines which most naturally present themselves. We should give up the idea of turning Ireland into an industrial nation in the present meaning of the term; we should take her as she is, an agricultural nation, and the fourth meat-producing country in the world, and endeavour to develop her great industry of agriculture, and side by side with that to promote all those minor industries the great value of which is to give subsidiary employment to the rural population. This is what both private enterprise and State-aided enterprise are now doing in Ireland, and certainly at no period in the past has the future of the mass of the Irish people appeared more hopeful.