DES KEENAN'S BOOKS ON IRISH HISTORY online version
Pre-Famine Ireland LINKS TO INDIVIDUAL CHAPTERS
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Summary of chapter. Industry in Ireland, as in most other countries at the time was concerned with the processing of the products of agriculture, the milling, brewing, and distilling of cereals, the spinning and weaving of natural fibres, the preservation of meat and the use of leather. Mining and the extractive industries were not of major importance. Manufacturing of objects in wood and metal was quite important, but some heavy engineering works were undertaken.
many parts of
the end of the eighteenth century there was a great increase in the production
of cereals in areas with access to water transport. This meant having a
waterway with no obstructions and a depth of two or three feet. Already in 1781
there were mills on the river Barrow with a capacity of milling 20,000 barrels
a year. Exports of cereals grew, but not until the 1830's was there a great
expansion in the products of milling. In 1828 475,000 quarters of wheat were
exported compared with 620,000 quarters of wheaten flour. Similarly, 1,800,000
quarters of oats were exported compared with 425,000 quarters of oatmeal. By
1839 the figures were 90,000 quarters of wheat and 520,000 quarters of wheaten
flour, 1,300,000 quarters of oats and 890,000 quarters of oatmeal (The Pilot 29 April 1842). All grain was
kiln-dried so the mills tended to be near the east coast. Before the repeal of
the Corn Laws Clonmel on the Suir in Co. Tipperary was the most important
centre of milling.
and distilling are processes for making alcoholic beverages from cereals. In
heavy excises on spirits during the War made illicit distillation profitable.
This produced a problem for the Government. It needed the money from the taxes
to finance the war, but this was leading to a widespread breaking of the law
leading to general lawlessness.
1812 onwards several measures were tried to promote small legal stills. It was
also hoped that they would stimulate the economy of the mountainous areas of
the country. Barley and peat for fuel were available locally, while the
distilled spirits, though cheap, were sufficiently profitable to be transported
by packpony. Similar measures had greater success in
The brewing and distilling industry was
severely hit by Fr Mathew's Temperance Crusade in the 1830's. Recorded whiskey
production reached 11,894,000 gallons in 1836 but this figure had fallen to
5,738,000 by 1847. The first figure was not re-attained until 1860. By 1907,
about 12,000,000 gallons a year were being produced. In the second half of the
century the number of distilleries declined as their size increased. There were
94 in 1840, 49 in 1847 and 22 in 1914. Much of the Irish whiskey before 1850
was exported as overproof (concentrated) whiskey to the English gin
produces a relatively bulky and heavy beverage unsuitable for transport.
Breweries therefore tended to be small and scattered. Access to water-transport
was essential for large-scale production. By the mid-eighteenth century high
quality beer was being imported from
(ii) The Textile Industry: Processes and
manufacture consists of two main processes, spinning and weaving, and several
subsidiary processes like fulling, finishing and dyeing. Fulling, which
involves washing great quantities of cloth was a very arduous task and was one
of the first processes to be mechanised by means of wind and water mills.
Fulling mills existed in
is done by taking the relatively short fibres of wool, cotton, flax, etc. and
forming a long continuous thread by twisting the fibres together. (An exception
is silk where the fibres themselves are long and continuous but are twisted
together for strength. Silk-spinning was the first process to be accomplished
by machinery invented in
process of spinning by hand dates back thousands of years. The twisting is
accomplished by means of a small weight called a spindle spinning around as it
is suspended from the thread held in one hand. The loose bundle of carded fibre
was held by the other hand on a stick called a distaff, from which bundle the
fibres were drawn out to be twisted together by the spinning spindle in the
other hand. When the thread reached a certain length, the spinner (or more
usually the spinster, for it was women's work) stopped spinning and wound the
thread onto the spindle before resuming.
In the later Middle Ages a device called a
spinning wheel was invented which drove the spindle faster. The spindle was
turned by a wheel that was itself revolved by hand or by a treadle. The system
proved relatively easy to mechanise by linking together many spindles and
attaching them to a source of power like a water wheel. The first multiple
spinning machine was Hargreave's Spinning Jenny powered by a treadle. It
produced thread suitable only for the weft or crosswise threads. Arkwright's
waterframe was powered by water and produced thread fit for the warp or
vertical threads also. There was much resistance to new machinery in the
eighteenth century especially in the woollen branch. In the cotton industry
waterframes were introduced from the start.
the eighteenth century the organisers of the textile trade preferred to put out
work into country areas to avoid restrictions imposed by the trade guilds in
the towns. The introduction of machinery was avoided so as not to interfere
with established hand-spinning. It was therefore first used in the
newly-established cotton industry in
the beginning of the century in
Weaving is a more complicated craft. It requires a frame called a loom on which threads can be hung vertically, and a device for shifting alternate threads backwards and forwards. The weaver passes another thread attached to a shuttle horizontally between the alternate rows of threads, reverses the positions of the vertical threads and passes the shuttle again. This produces woven or interwoven cloth. By varying the pattern of the weave different kinds of cloth could be produced.
were usually concentrated in particular regions or areas like the Dublin
Liberties (wool) and in parts of Antrim and Down
(linen). They were noted for drunkenness, radical views, and a propensity to
form combinations. Though technically called journeymen they seem to have
worked largely on their own, and were often unemployed. Though similar skills
were involved the weaving of woollens, cottons, linens, and silks, were
regarded as different crafts.
first improvement in the loom was Kay's Flying Shuttle that allowed a single
weaver to weave even a broadcloth seventy two inches
wide. This was in use for linen and
cotton from 1800, and a variant called the spring shuttle for wool.
even by the most skilled weaver using the best thread produced a very unfinished cloth, and much of the value of the cloth
came from skilled finishers. The fairly loose weave must be tightened by
soaking the cloth and trampling it underfoot to compact the weave. This is
called fulling. When fulling woollens fuller's earth was used
to remove the natural grease of the wool. The wet cloth was then dried
stretched on hooks called tenterhooks so that it would retain its shape. Even
in towns a good supply of water for washing was of the first consequence.
Weaving proved difficult to mechanise, and not until about 1820 was machine
woven cloth considered equal to hand woven. Power-driven looms were rare in
the production of cloth it was estimated that about 15 people, 5 or 6 of them
carders and spinners, were employed for each weaver. For the more complex or
better-finished cloths up to 40 people, sorters, pickers, combers, scribblers,
spinners, sheermen, dyers, etc., could be employed for each weaver. So even before the introduction of machinery
cloth manufacture tended to be concentrated in factories. But waterpower was
very useful for the fulling process and by the end of the eighteenth century
textile factories were being built in country towns.
is fashionable nowadays to paint a black picture of conditions in factories,
but that is not necessarily how the workers themselves saw them. Conditions for
workers in factories were better than those of farmworkers, fishermen,
seafarers, and in many cases than those of weavers and spinners working at
home. Earnings over the year were likely to be higher, leading to a higher
standard of living. The working day in the factory was long, not being reduced
to ten hours until 1847. But machinery was unreliable and often broken down,
and the organisation of work by twentieth century standards primitive, leading
to much wasted time. Time-and-motion studies are an American invention of the
the opening years of the nineteenth century over 40 million yards of linen were
being exported. In 1844 60,000 machine-driven spindles were being operated.
About 1850 21,000 people were employed in factories connected with the manufacture
of linen, a figure which rose to 60,000 by the end of the century when a total
of 828,000 spindles were in use. Power-driven looms were introduced about 1850.
During the Famine it was estimated that the whole industry employed about 60,000 people with a quarter of a million dependants, but it is not clear who precisely were included in this figure. It probably includes people like seed-merchants, and the manufacturers of bleaches.
of the linen woven in
attempts, some backed by the Government, were made to develop the cotton
industry. The most famous of these failed attempts was made at Prosperous, Co.
Kildare, where there was a large Protestant population. Jennies at first and
then waterframes were used. A judge, Baron George Hamilton, succeeded in
establishing the cotton industry at Balbriggan, Co.
cotton industry was the first to be mechanised. By the year 1800 there were
13,500 people employed in the industry and by 1830 about 30,000. After that
date competition from
As the linen industry contracted towards
fabrics were used universally for clothing except for underwear and for ladies
summer dresses. The frieze overcoat or jacket, either in its natural grey
colour or dyed a light blue, slightly cutaway at the tails, was the almost
invariable uniform of men especially in the rural areas. The upper classes
preferred the finer-woven imported broadcloths. Colours faded easily before the
discovery of the fast aniline dyes in the nineteenth century. As living
standards improved there was a move away from the coarser friezes and ratteens
produced from clothing wool to the finer serges and stuffs produced from
combing wool. Worsted yarn was used in stuffs, tabinets, bombazines, merino
crepe, albion net, gauzes, etc. The sheepfarmers
failed to keep up with the demand for the combing wool for the manufacture of
worsteds, as there was a greater demand for clothing wool that was also used in
rugs and blankets. Imports of wool increased. Standards of
weaving improved and by mid-century
woollen industry was spread all over
problem especially associated with the woollen industry was the fact that for
drying the fabric after weaving and washing it had to be hung up to dry on
tenterhooks. As these were in the open air they could not be used in wet
weather. The remedy was to construct a 'tenterhouse' or 'stove tenterhouse'
heated with stoves. A philanthropic gentleman named Mr Pleasants built such a
house for the impoverished weavers in the Dublin Liberties about 1815. Builders
of factories naturally built such houses for themselves.
problem connected with the woollen industry was the medieval character of the
markets for raw wool. When raw wool was being bought ancient deductions for
'trett', 'caste', and other dues were exacted. These were abolished by a
leading wool auctioneer about the middle of the nineteenth century.
the woollen industry especially there were many ancient vested interests that
prevented rapid change. Until the Municipal Corporations Reform Act (1840)
removed their controlling powers the development of the industry within cities
and towns was subject to the interests of the masters of the guilds. The
combinations of journeymen were also more prevalent in towns.
Huguenots also brought the manufacture of silk to
hosiery industry finally accepted the stocking frame in 1762 and so can claim
to be the first of the textile manufacturers to adopt machinery. The hosiers in
the guilds were faced with competition from better-quality English stockings
and also from the cheap poor-quality rough stockings knitted in rural areas
use of machinery led to the manufacture of machinery, and this in turn led to
the development of an iron and steel industry. Up until 1800 the
machinery-manufacturers pirated (and improved) the latest British inventions,
but after that date were bound by British patents. Only around
some ways it can be said that the modernisation and development of
the eighteenth century there were considerable exports of beef, butter, and
ending of the War forced many changes on the provisions industry. Few people
would eat the highly salted beef and pork, so other forms of curing were
introduced and developed. Hams and bacon rather than salt pork were what the
public now demanded.
developments also drastically affected the Irish provisions industry. The first
was the invention of the sealed tin or can around 1815 which led to the
cattle-rearing and meat-packing industries around
a cattle-rearing society milk and milk-products like
butter, cheese, buttermilk, whey, and curds, are as important at least as meat.
goes sour very easily, and so, even in subsistence economies, needs some
processing to preserve it for some time. Pasteurisation and refrigeration were
either unknown or unavailable, and fresh milk was a bulky item of no great
commercial value. Fresh milk was therefore only sold locally, and cows were
kept within cities for this purpose.
milk contains 87% water, and 13% solids, and if a large part of the water is
removed, products are obtained which keep better or can be preserved, have a
higher value, and are more easily transportable. By curdling the milk with
rennet, straining off the solids, and squeezing them dry, various kinds of
cheeses can be produced. Or, by allowing the creamy part of the milk to rise to
the surface, skimming it off, and violently agitating it, butter can be
produced. Salting preserves butter.
making of butter was women's work, and it was made at home. It was a seasonal
occupation. This meant great variability
in quality, as butter easily picks up bad tastes. For export the butter was
collected and packed in firkins, small wooden barrels bound with iron hoops.
Early in the century
the century advanced tastes in butter changed, and a much more lightly salted
'fresh butter' was developed for the markets. Fresh butter could be collected
along with eggs for export by steamship to
the nineteenth century located coalfields, though widely spread, were small,
distant from markets, and needing constant pumping. The miners too were noted
for violent combinations. The miners in
Grand Canal Company found a seam three feet four inches thick (large by Irish
standards) and extending over 200 acres at Doonane in Queen's County. It
installed a steam pump and constructed coal depots at the closest points on its
main and spur canals. Another mine in
1808 the Dublin Society commissioned a survey of Irish coal measures, and Mr
Richard Griffith began work in 1809. In 1814 he reported to the Society on the
for metals was carried on in several places and the remains of old lead and
silver mines of the period can still be seen. Gold and silver mines belonged to
the crown, but mixed mines did not. There was a considerable find of alluvial
gold in Wicklow in 1795 but the lode was never found. Silver was mined
few Irish mining companies were established. One was floated in 1830 with a
view to working coal measures, a coppermine at
Knockmahon, leadmines at Glendalough and Kildrum, and slate quarries at
Killaloe and Glenpatrick. Though the mines were small great enthusiasm was
shown in developing them.
lime-burning were carried on all over the country, and the remains of the small
local kilns are easily located. They were built on steeply sloping ground, were
loaded from the top and emptied from the bottom. [Top]
One of the great objectives in the eighteenth century was to develop the Irish iron industry from mining and refining the ore to the finished product. So successful was this effort that when iron began to be used on a large scale about the middle of the nineteenth century the Irish ironmasters were capable of producing a wide range of products especially for domestic use.
Ship and boat
building was carried on in many Irish ports, and even if the hull were not
built locally, rigging and fitting-out could be carried out. Cork, Waterford,
Belfast, Londonderry were the most important centres while small cargo and
fishing vessels were built at Dundalk, Drogheda, Wicklow, Arklow, Wexford,
Dungarvan, and Kinsale. A local shipbuilder might employ only five or six men.
Early in the century ships trading with
plagued the shipbuilding industry especially in
leather industry regarded itself as one of the great staples of the Irish
trade. Large numbers of people were employed in tanning hides as well as in the
manufacture of leather goods. The industry nearly destroyed itself during the
War by using chemicals to hasten the tanning process. In the traditional
process the raw hides were exposed to the tannin which was found in the bark of
oaktrees. The tanning was done in pits, and the war tax on leather goods was
collected by taxing the tanning pits according to size. It was easy to collect
and so attracted crippling tax-rates. After the War the industry suffered from
the increasing export of live animals to
and cabinet-making always existed in the subsistence sector, and around 1800
Irish craftsmen were supplying the cheaper end of the market. By 1850 standards
had risen to equal the best in
industries which around 1850 were producing goods of the very highest quality
were the lace, hosiery, gloves, haberdashery, paper-making, printing,
engraving, book-binding and instrument-making industries. The firm of Thomas
Grubb co-operated with the earl of Rosse in building the largest telescope in
1847 the Dublin Society offered prizes for the design and manufacture in paper, books, etc; agricultural instruments;
paper, books, etc;
Government at that time too reorganised and expanded the schools of design to
meet new needs. It was observed that the textile industry was then spending
thousands of pounds each year buying patterns from abroad.
the fields of construction and heavy engineering Irish contractors proved equal
to every demand. Early in the eighteenth century in the Georgian period
building on a large scale commenced of both public and private buildings.
Associated with building was stone-carving and applied sculpture. Irish contractors
pioneered the introduction of canal building though none of their work in the
eighteenth century was notably successful. By 1800 a new generation of Irish
engineers had learned their business in
building of the railways brought a new challenge to Irish contractors and
labourers. The speed of construction was dramatically raised and amazed the
Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.