Restrictions on Irish Trade and Manufacture

Patrick Weston Joyce

705. Ireland enjoys great natural advantages of soil and climate; and towards the end of the seventeenth century, in spite of wars and other troubles, several branches of manufacture, trade, and commerce were prospering.

But the English traders and merchants fancied that Irish prosperity was their loss, and in their short-sighted jealousy, persuaded the English parliament to ruin the trade of Ireland (except that in linen) by imposing restrictions.

706. This legislation was generally the work of the English parliament alone; but sometimes the Irish parliament followed in the same direction; and in obedience to orders from the other side, passed acts destroying their own trade, All this was the more to be wondered at, seeing that the blow fell almost exclusively on Irish Protestants; for at this time the Catholics were barely able to live, and could hardly attempt any industries.

707. The English "Navigation act" of 1660, as amended in 1663, prohibited all exports from Ireland to the colonies; and also, in the interest of English graziers, prohibited temporarily the import of Irish cattle into England. In 1666 this last prohibition was made to be permanent. These acts almost destroyed the Irish cattle and shipping trades; and the people, being unable to find a market for their horses and cattle, fell into great distress.

708. The Irish, driven from cattle rearing, applied themselves to other industries, especially that of wool, for which the country was well suited. We have seen that Wentworth crippled the trade (546): nevertheless it began to flourish again: but this also was doomed. The English cloth dealers, fancying that it injured them, petitioned in 1698 to have it suppressed: and king William, in the speech from the throne, promised to discourage the Irish wool trade, to encourage the Irish linen trade, and to promote the trade of England.

709. Accordingly, in 1699, the Irish parliament, under directions from the other side, helped to ruin their own country by putting an export duty of four shillings in the lb. on fine woollen cloths, and two shillings on frieze and flannel. At the same time the English parliament passed an act prohibiting the Irish from exporting either wool or woollen goods to any ports in the world except Liverpool, Milford, Chester, and some ports on the Bristol Channel. Moreover no woollens were to be shipped to these from any Irish ports except Drogheda, Dublin, Waterford, Youghal, Cork, and Kinsale.

710. This was the most disastrous of all the restrictions on Irish trade. It accomplished all that the English merchants looked for: it ruined the Irish wool trade. It is stated that 40,000 of the Irish Protestants were immediately reduced to poverty by it; and 20,000 Puritans left Ireland for New England. Then began the emigration, from want of employment, that continues to this day. But the English parliament professed to encourage the linen trade; for this could do no harm to English manufacture.

711. As always happens when there are prohibitive tariffs, smuggling now increased enormously. Wool soon became a drug in the home markets: worth only five pence a lb.; while it would sell for two shillings and sixpence in France. This was an irresistible inducement to smuggle: and the smugglers brought, in return, contraband goods—brandy, wine, and silk. No one cared to interfere with this illegal trade; thousands of the Irish of all classes profited by it; and high and low, squires, clergy, and peasants, Protestants and Catholics, all were in active combination against the law.

712. The government were powerless to stop this contraband trade; and for generations it flourished all round the coasts. All this was the result of unjust and unwise legislation.

713. In subsequent times the parliament interfered with almost every branch of Irish trade and manufacture:—beer, malt, hats, cotton, silk, gunpowder, iron and ironware, &c. And the embargo in the time of the American war (787) not only ruined the farmers, but ruined the trade in salted beef and other such commodities.

714. When, subsequently, these restrictions were removed and trade was partially relieved (792, 808), the remedy came too late. Some branches of manufacture and trade had been killed downright, and others permanently injured. A trade extinguished is not easily revived. The trade in wool, a chief staple of Ireland, which was kept down for nearly a century, never recovered its former state of prosperity.

715. The consequence of all this destructive legislation is that Ireland has at this day comparatively little manufacture and commerce; and the people have to depend for subsistence almost exclusively on land. And this again, by increasing the competition for land, has intensified the land troubles that we inherit from the older times of the plantations.

716. The king and his English parliament did not agree very well. He was tolerant; they were intolerant; and they took every opportunity to thwart and mortify him, which embittered his later life. The parliament passed an act in 1700 to take back all those estates he had granted (678); a measure which gave the king great annoyance.

A fall from his horse which broke his collar bone gave his shattered constitution such a shock that he sank and died on the 8th of March 1702. He was succeeded by queen Anne. George I. succeeded Anne in 1714.