Irish Prosperity before The Union

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXVII

The Irish revenue for the year 1783 was, in round numbers, £900,000, which amounted to a tax of about six shillings per annum on each person. It was distributed thus:

For the interest of the National Debt, — £120,000

Army and Ordnance, Civil Government, and other funds, — 450,000

Pensions, grants, bounties, and aids to manufacturers, — 250,000

Surplus unappropriated, — 80,000

Total, — £900,000

More than £200,000 was spent during that year in erecting forts, batteries, and other public buildings, which gave employment to the people in certain districts. Large sums were granted to the poor of Cork and Dublin for coals; and large grants were made to encourage manufactures. I have observed, however, in carefully examining these grants, which are by far too numerous for insertion, that they were principally, and, indeed, I might say exclusively, made to persons in Dublin and its neighbourhood, in the north of Ireland, and in the cities of Cork and Limerick. Hence, the prosperity of Ireland was only partial, and was confined exclusively, though, probably, not intentionally, to certain districts. This will explain why the misery and starvation of the poor, in the less favoured parts of the country, were a principal cause of the fearful insurrection which occurred within a few short years.

Lord Clare proclaimed, in the House of Parliament, that "no nation on the habitable globe had advanced in cultivation, commerce, and manufactures, with the same rapidity as Ireland, from 1782 to 1800." The population increased from three millions to five. There were 5,000 carpenters fully employed in Dublin; there were 15,000 silk-weavers. Nor should we be surprised at this; for Dublin possesses at the present day substantial remains of her former prosperity, which are even now the admiration of Europe. All her great public buildings were erected at this period. The Custom-house was commenced, and completed in ten years, at a cost of a quarter of a million sterling. The Rotundo was commenced in 1784. The Law Courts, the most elegant and extensive in the British Empire, were begun in 1786. In 1788 there were 14,327 dwelling-houses in Dublin, and 110,000 inhabitants. Two hundred and twenty peers and three hundred commoners had separate residences. Dublin was fashionable, and Dublin prospered.[8]

I have already said that corruption soon did its fatal work. It sanctioned, nay, it compelled, the persecution of the majority of the nation for their religious creed; and with this persecution the last flame of national prosperity expired, and the persecutors and the persecuted shared alike in the common ruin. In 1792 Lord Edward FitzGerald denounced the conduct of the House in these ever-memorable words: "I do think, sir, that the Lord Lieutenant and the majority of this House are the worst subjects the King has;" and when a storm arose, the more violent from consciousness that his words were but too true, for all retraction he would only say:

"I am accused of having said that I think the Lord Lieutenant and the majority of this House are the worst subjects the King has. I said so; 'tis true; and I am sorry for it."

On the 1st of January, 1801, a new imperial standard was exhibited on London Tower, and on the Castles of Dublin and Edinburgh. It was formed of the three crosses of St. George, St. Patrick, and St. Andrew, and is popularly known as the Union Jack. The fleur de lis and the word France were omitted from royal prerogatives and titles; and a proclamation was issued appointing the words Dei Gratia, Britaniarum Rex, Fidei Defensor. The Dublin Gazette of July, 1800, contained the significant announcement of the creation of sixteen new peerages. The same publication for the last week of the year contained a fresh list of twenty-six others. Forty-two creations in six months were rather an extensive stretch of prerogative; and we cannot be surprised if the majority of the nation had more respect for the great untitled, whose ancestry were known, and were quite above accepting the miserable bribe of a modern peerage.


[8] Prospered.—This gives an average of about eight persons to each house. There were 22,276 inhabited houses in Dublin in 1861, and the population was 254,480. This would leave an average of eleven persons to each house. There are only seventy-five carpenters in Thom's Directory, and sixty-four cabinetmakers: if we give them an average of ten men each in their employment, it would not give more than 680 at the trade in all.