In Restraint of Trade

Justin McCarthy
Chapter VII | Start of Chapter

The laws passed under successive Sovereigns had already done much to discourage or prohibit Irish commerce in several branches, for the sake of giving special advantages to English merchants and manufacturers. In the reign of Charles I. and Charles II. several measures for this purpose had been passed into law. The systems established under William III. carried the process a step farther. An enactment in 1696 prohibited all direct trade from Ireland to any British colony, and an Act was passed which forbade the export of Irish wool or woollen goods from any Irish port, except from certain places where the English settlers were strong and busy, to any foreign port whatever, and to any British port, except specified places, under penalty of a heavy fine and the forfeiture alike of the cargo and of the vessel containing it. These enactments had the effect of checking all growth of trade and manufacture among the native Irish communities. Such manufactures as the country could produce were made the monopoly of a favoured class of traders. Ireland as a whole was compelled to make a living by the mere cultivation of the soil. The land laws, the system of land tenure which had been imposed upon the country, made the soil itself the exclusive property of the wealthy and favoured. The man who cultivated the soil cultivated it only for the benefit of his landlord, and could get nothing out of it but a bare living for himself. Even that depended altogether on the good-will of the owner, who could turn the tenant out to starve at any moment. Many of the evils of this system endured in Ireland long after penalties and disqualifications for religious worship condemned by the law had passed utterly out of existence. Not long ago John Stuart Mill said that the Irish cottier tenant was perhaps the only man living who could neither benefit by his industry nor suffer by his improvidence.